Concept and Productivity

Mike DeWitt writes about concepts and When Bad Things Happen to Good Conceptsand a Part Two

In Part One, he describes how good [tag]concepts[/tag] can be turned into great applications through definition of proper context, and how those same good concepts could be horribly disfigured by confusing concept with context. As an example he has a pencil sharpener and says,

In concept the pencil sharpener is very simple:
1) A cutting surface (blade) fixed at an angle to the shaft of the pencil
2) A guide for the pencil shaft to meet the blade
That’s it!

A good concept can also be of help when trying to get at better [tag]productivity[/tag]. Starting with Toyota´s “J[tag]ust In Time[/tag] production system” which he describes as a very simple and good context. It took years, but eventually they turned the auto industry upside down with a simple concept: constantly strive to eliminate muda, or waste, in 7 areas:
* overproduction
* transportation
* motion
* waiting
* processing
* inventory
* defects

In Part Two Mike DeWitt takes Eli Goldratt’s The Goal as very powerful concept. The book is simple and straightforward. When the system in question is properly defined allows you to correctly identify the real constraints.

According to Goldratt, in a system with any sort of complexity, there is a very small number (usually one) of real constraints of the throughput of the system as a whole. This could be an actual physical constraint (the machine named ‘Herbie’ in the book), a policy constraint, or a market constraint. The process for improving the throughput of the overall process is as follows:

1. Identify the system’s constraint
2. Decide how to exploit the system’s constraint (since updated to include eliminating the constraint completely if it doesn’t require a huge investment, such as with policy constraints)
3. Subordinate everything else to the above decisions
4. Elevate the system’s constraint
5. Go back to step one and see if there is now a new constraint. Don’t succumb to inertia. Repeat until the constraints are appropriate.

I think these are very interesting articles worth reading and very useful in all sort of [tag]business[/tag] even Service-based businesses.

One key aspect of any good concept is that it has been refined so that all of its parts are necessary, and they constitute a sufficient set to be effective. In other words, it is fairly atomic. If you take anything away, you lose the power of the concept. In our pencil sharpener example, the Bowie knife is an example of omitting one of the key facets of the concept (a guide for the pencil). In the hands of an expert the knife can achieve the same results as a real pencil sharpener, but you wouldn’t mount one in the corner of a kindergarten class and expect good results.

One Response to “Concept and Productivity”

  1. Mike Says:


    Thanks for linking to my posts. I’ve spent most of my career in services-based businesses, and found that many of them (especially consultancies) are concept abusers of the worst sort. I’ve also found that with careful thought, concepts from other domains, such as Ohno’s Areas of Waste, can really provide profound insight into service businesses. The same goes for the Theory of Constraints. I think Goldratt’s best book is ‘Critical Chain’, the book where he explores TOC for project management.


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