The contrast between ideal and real is powerful. Makes you focus.
By not paying enough attention to the gap between the ideal and real, you may end up with a complete blowout like Fyre Festival founder McFarland. I heard of it only long after it happened by watching the Netflix documentary. Clearly I’m not the brightest in terms of social media usage.
The biggest takeaway from the Neflix documentary I had was around McFarland’s unwillingness to face the operational realities of what he was promising. Which ultimately led to his downfall. He kept pushing back on anyone who brought him bad news, telling them to “stop being negative” or just firing them. If he had taken in the feedback earlier, he and his team could have avoided the whole blowup.
I’ve found a simple tool to help straddle the vision with operational reality.
I first heard of it from a relatively older book called Lean Thinking by Womack and Jones. Basically, it should be possible to measure what the average output rate should be in order to meet customer (or executive sponsor) expectations. They call this takt time. The term originated in Germany in the 1930s, and was basically used as an output “pulse” benchmark.
The example they used was that of a bicycle factory. In short, “takt time synchronizes the rate of production to the rate of sales to customers”, according to Womack and Jones.
While initially bicycles were built in larger batches based on the orders coming in, this usually caused internal operational conflicts if multiple customers had expectations of delivery. Moreover, it usually took weeks to deliver anything. And usually the orders were late.
Instead, by figuring out that the average expected output rate was that of producing one bicycle every 10 minutes everything became much simpler. In effect, if the factory could guarantee a “pulse” of output at that rate, they would be certain to meet typical customer expectations. This required a significant change in the floor layout of the factory, upskilling employees to be more flexible, and change in production processes.
Here is a smaller scale example of the change in mindset of what needs to happen at the factory, in order to deliver to a takt time:
But ultimately they invested enough time and effort to get to the required level. Which meant that their customers always got the right number of bikes on time. Which was a big change from before.
How does this work?
Let’s say you need to deliver 59 orders of 192 bikes on average in a year.
takt time = available time / customer demand
= 235 business days / 40
= 3.98 days per order ~ 4 days
If the bikes are relatively similar across the board, you can reduce it to a much more granular per bike time:
4 business days/ 192 bikes