A tale of “Either/or” and “Both/and”

Typically, we see things in an “either/or” context, you can do one thing at the expense of another, take your choice!. You can have line efficiency, or line flexibility, not both, advertising reach  or frequency against a narrow target, but not both in the advertising budget, covering inventory requirements of A, or B by the end of the week , but not both. Happens very day.

This trade-off is programmed into us, but has the unintended consequence of “allowing” shallow problem analysis, facilitating our “jump” to a conclusion, rather than going through the hard work of real problem   articulation, consideration of many possible solution options, and the testing and recalibration of hypotheses that should occur and re-iterate to identify where more data is needed, more ambiguity dissolved, and more responsibility taken.

When was the last time you acted too soon, and laid all your bets on a single obvious solution being the right one, only to find the siren song of “easy and obvious” led you astray?

I first came across this phenomena in the late 80’s (to my younger readers, some of us were working  then) when my then employer was running “Ski” yoghurt down a new form/fill/seal machine designed for long runs to meet the demand in France, where the machinery was made. Run raspberry yoghurt for a few days, and it worked wonderfully, great in France, but for us it would have been a years stock, so we had to change flavors after little more than what would have been a changeover run in France, in many cases, less than an hour, with the attendant changeover times and start-up/finish-run inefficiencies, which the French engineers assured us were “absolutement” unavoidable.

Over a period of time, in a structured and progressive way, our fitters  and operators who ran this piece of French engineering revenge on the rest of the world,  using what would now be described as a PDCA continuous improvement cycle, made that machine do what its makers said was impossible, and we got both efficiency and flexibility out of it.

Either/or  was not good enough, progressively, with many small steps, a great deal of experimentation, and recognition that the operators often had a better view of the intricacies than an engineer working off a plan, it evolved it into a “both/and” machine.

As a result, we made pots of money, because we had very low inventory levels, almost 100% order  fulfillment , and an increasing market share because our customer service to big retailers was better than our opposition, and the consumers loved the product. Truly a lean virtuous circle!

 

 

About strategyaudit

StrategyAudit is a boutique strategy and marketing consultancy concentrating on the challenges of the medium sized manufacturing businesses that make up the backbone of our economy. The particular focus is on their strategic and marketing development. as well as the business and operational efficiency improvements necessary for day to day commercial survival. We not only give advice, we go down "into the weeds" to ensure and enable implementation.
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