• John Melbye

Season Two, Episode Nine

Complexity and Precision – Part One

In an already complex world, and the ever-changing interwoven relationships and connections, we must choose how to mitigate that complexity. Let’s explore expanded precision.


We can embrace the complexity and build a system where everyone is judged on the preciseness of their input and their output. Aligning the various complexities along the various steps of a process so that each step is exactly and precisely in line with the preceding and proceeding steps. Sound simple?


My best example would be a symphony orchestra. Each instrument plays their separate part that aligns exactly with every other instrument. There is a director who is tasked with keeping the pace or tempo and with visibly helping everyone keep the same tempo. The director also helps individual people or sections to see when they are too loud or too soft, too fast or too slow. Or to guide them when they have a particularly important or complicated part. Enough detail for my story.


Have I painted the picture for you? There are a couple of points that I failed to make. 1) The orchestra members are highly skilled musicians. 2) They practice their parts together and separately, until they have perfected the sound and the feeling they are hoping to convey. 3) The director must know all of the parts and understand the instrument enough to guide the performer in the direction desired. 4) It is the same piece of music that they practice for days, weeks and months. 5) And yet they seldom feel that they have reached perfection.


A simpler example would be flight schedules. If you have a choice to fly non-stop vs 2 stops for the same price, no one will choose the 2-stop route. Why? Because a delay or problem in any segment of the flight may impact your arrival at your final destination. And we know that more segments mean extra time is needed to recover from the possible delays.


Enter MRP - Material Requirements Planning (Stage Left). Because MRP is based completely on dependencies between parts, entities, and operations, a tremendous amount of precision is required. Perhaps even more than an orchestra because supply chain often requires precision between areas of the organization that are not in the same physical vicinity.


MRP has some other differences or difficulties. 1) No matter how skilled an individual is, they face varying situations every day and must react quickly and decisively. Their new and unexpected action affects every subsequent step in the process. 2) You can work on improving your knowledge or skills individually, but we seldom have an opportunity to “practice” with the team. There are no “do-overs.” And seldom time for “lessons learned” conversations. 3) Management structure usually is hierarchical and segmented. The expectation is that if we each do our part properly, the sum of the parts will equal success. Since companies are Complex Adaptive Systems, each segment is reacting and adapting separately to unforeseen realities. Once completed it is unlikely that all parts will fit together well.


MRP has some particular challenges that can’t be ignored. It is designed for a slower pace. It requires some stability of information. And it assumes that we have the time and the resources to complete all tasks when requested by the customer. Those days are gone. So, we work to adapt, adjust, and correct our MRP system so that it will still work in today’s environment. Have we duct-taped our way to success or are we in a tornado of trouble?


We need to stop and determine the real enemy. Only then will we find our way forward.

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