Constraints Are Often Invisible

FAQ #2 – How do I identify a constraint/how do I find the problem?

Picture this, you are on your way somewhere in your car, there are four lanes of traffic heading through town in one direction, and in the right most lane a car has stopped, and has its indicators (blinkers) on.

As a result, all the traffic in the right most lane behind the stalled car, has to SHIFT to the left, so now the second most right land is SLOWING DOWN and/or SHIFTING over to the left.

Can you picture that? Can you see, up ahead, all of the chaos that is being caused by that one single car? Can you see how the problem is quickly compounding and getting worse?

If you were to look at that traffic CONSTRAINT from a helicopter, you would see that instead of four lines all moving in a straight line, you have this BOTTLE NECK where everything is SHIFTING over to the left before coming back in to form 4 straight lines again.

Follow me? By the way, this is exactly what happened on Carling Avenue this morning, at Dow’s lake when I was making my way to the Ottawa airport. A little bit of surprise stress to keep me sharp!

Take a moment to feel what I might have been feeling. On the way the airport, everything running smoothly, suddenly a “what the heck is going on up there?” moment.

All too soon you realize what’s up, a dreaded traffic jam. To make matters worse, you are heading to  the airport where for the most part things run on a pretty tight schedule. Imagine it. Feel it. The “oh oh moment” is feeling more urgent by the minute. You are feeling some stress, you are getting worried … Can you feel that, suddenly you say things out loud that are not true “This ALWAYS happens.” You are getting short tempered, ‘talking’ to the person in the car in front of you, pleading with him, “Come on Buddy, move that thing.”

Your whole mind and body is now awash in negativity, worry and anger. “Why me?

Okay now feel this … Imagine you felt that way every day, imagine this was business as usual. You walk in every day and get busy and you HOPE there are not any cars that stall, or unexpected events that fall out of the blue sky.

A 4,000 pound car with flashing lights on it is easy enough to find, whereas the problems affecting your business can be a little more elusive. What I have seen pretty consistently is that people (creators, entrepreneurs, professionals) typically diagnose the symptom and not the disease. In other words, most people manage problems versus solve them.

Problems that are not solved will remain problems, managing problems just makes them invisible … for a while.

The four lanes represent your enterprise. When all four of them are running straight and true, life is a wonderful thing. All the cars are moving along predictably, there is order. After a while, at first almost imperceptibly “things” start to clog up a little. The speed slows, a horn is heard, and then more quickly than before everything is a mess.

Pretend you can’t see the stalled car, all you know is that everything, for some reason, is shifting left, bulging out like a disc in your neck, causing all kinds of pain before coming back in and returning to normal. This bulge is causing all kinds of issues – things are jamming up, everything is harder than usual, and some people are losing their temper. Everyone knows that something isn’t right.

Often then the first solution would be to ADD ANOTHER LANE. To try to create more capacity – the other lane is a metaphor of course. It could be a bigger store, or another sales person, or another assistant or a new product. The new lane is a reaction.

When you are lost, you sit down you don’t start running. When you are lost, and in danger you sit down and thus prevent yourself from making your situation worse. Then you make some shelter, then you worry about water, then food. In that order. Sit. Get some perspective. Protect what you have (shelter), then get what you need first (water) then what you would like to have (food). Not getting more lost, getting some shelter, and water is going to save your ass.

This is what we would do to solve your problem. We would slow traffic down, not attempt to speed it up. We might even get everyone to stop for just a moment so that we can walk down into the cars, and find out PRECISELY what the problem is … A dog is in the middle of the road? A tree across the lane? A family of ducks? A person has fallen on their bike? A sink hole? A stalled car? We have to know what the problem is so that we can move it, fill it, patch it or pull it out of the way. Or I suppose, in the case of the family of ducks, eat it.

What we need to do, in short order is get everything moving again in an orderly fashion and ensure it never, ever, happens again. This is known as SOLVING versus MANAGING.

This may mean that we need to build some traffic lights to control the flow. It may mean we need to consider some bike lanes, it may mean we need to put a car-pooling lane in, or it may mean that these damn ducks are getting out of hand. I don’t know, but that isn’t going to make me guess.

One thing is for sure, unless they are obvious like stalled cars constraints don’t identify themselves, and they certainly don’t solve themselves.

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