Thursday, December 29, 2005

Process Improvement Case - Pointers

This is a real life case on which Pranjal J had worked. What is mentioned here is a toned down version of the real stuff that he did… great fun :) I recommend that you should catch hold of Pranjal and ask him to give you this case. I am sure you will enjoy it.

Problem Statement:
HLL has opened a new factory in Himachal Pradesh to manufacture detergent. However, they are facing frequent stock-outs. The factory was started three months ago and now that the winters are here the problem seems to be worsening. We had expected that the processes should have stabilized by now but that doesnt seem to be the case. Can you help us?

  • Factory works 24 x 5
  • Factory uses seven different types of powers in equal proportion to make detergent
  • There are seven silos at the factory for each power
  • Stockouts happen at random in any one or more silo
  • Each silo gets empty within half a day and needs refilling
  • Seven trucks with nine drivers and nine cleaners are responsible for getting the seven powders from the feeder. Two drivers and cleaners are back-ups
  • Feeder is 80 kms away
  • Feeder has a bucket elevator which loads poweders into the trucks
  • Bucket elevator takes two hours to load the poweder into the truck
  • One truck can carry only one type of powder
  • Drivers are paid well and are not dissatisfied
  • Factory earns Rs. 100 crores each day
  • Managers are satisfied with work and their bonuses are tied to them meeting targets. Stockouts are not something they want
I wont mention the solution here... for that you should talk to Pranjal.

Analysis and Pointers:
I started off by talking about all the ops jargon that I could think of – cycle inventory, safety inventory, lead time, variability in demand, reorder point. After some time Pranjal said he had no clue of what I was talking about. So I realized that there wasnt anything wrong with these things.
The rest of the case was pure commonsense and creative thinking – which I couldn’t do a lot of :)

Possible Approach:
In any case, here are my over all learnings from this case and also my ideas about how I will approach such cases in the future.

The problems could be in any stage of the inbound or outbound process. Therefore, the first task should be to identify the exact region where the problem has occured.

a.) For doing this it is very important to understand the entire process end to end. This is a must because each process is bound to be unique and unless you have a grip on the process its difficult to do any intelligent analysis
b.) Next you should track the problem to the exact stage or step where it occurs. It is likely that a problem occurring at one stage may manifest itself at some completely different stage
c.) Once you have isolated the erroneous step you can go about identifying the root cause of the problem
d.) Then, put on your creative thinking hat and get cracking at the problem!
e.) It is very important in a process improvement type case to analyse the impact of the recommendations that you give because changing the process at one stage may lead to new problems downstream or upstream. So do a sanity check
f.) Finally, provide recommendations to ensure that the fix stays fixed even after you (the consultant) have walked out … this might be your chance to wow the interviewer :)

I think after having documented these steps, I will be better prepared while tackling a process improvement case next time. Hope you find this useful too!

-- Yash


Kapil said...

More Questions I would Ask/focus on

As Each silo needs to be refilled twice in a day. Each truck would have to carry out two trips to the feeder and back.

Constraint - 24 hours in a day.

Total time per trip = 160Km/Average Speed + 2 hours for loading + 2 Hours/Unloading/ + Any other usual delay

assuming Average Speed = 30-40 km per hours

Minimum time = 160/40+2+2 = 8 + Any other usual delay (Such as stopping at railway crossing)

Miminum Time for two trips during two delays. 16 hours every day

Now clearly if Sleep time + Any other delay in travel more than 8 hours then Houston we have a problem.

We need to hire more Drivers/Cleaners

But it could be a slightly bigger problems ...

Trucks like the usual four wheeled beasts need maintenance. Does it take more than a day/ Half a day. this would mean atleast one of the silos would face stockout for that day.

Solution. Rent out more trucks vis a vis Buy more trucks. So you need to do a CBA for both.

Find me at

chiranth said...

There are two bottlenecks with the set up, one of them has been described by bbirds.

Here’s my explanation of the other more fundamental problem.

Let’s assume for a moment that the feeder is right next door to the factory and there are no trucks used for transportation.

It would take 14 hours for the bucket elevator to load the powder for all seven silos -- I am assuming that a bucket elevator does a serial operation, i.e. loads only one powder at a time.

The above paragraph means that if a silo receives its load of powder at 9:00 AM, it can expect the next load only at 11:00 PM. But as the problem mentions, the silo would run out of stock within half a day, i.e. by 9:00 PM. Bang - you've got a stock-out!!

Yes, if this problem could be resolved using a faster feeder, the problem of transportation, as bbirds has described, would manifest itself.

Anonymous said...

Visualization is a tool that has been used for thousands of years by initiates of all the metaphysical schools. Today, it is incorporated into top athlete's daily routines and is used in business affairs frequently. It's use is wide-spread among highly successful people, either consciously or unconsciously, aware of its create power. So if it has stood the test of time and is still being used by high achievers we must come to the conclusion that it works! But has it ever worked for you?

If you answered 'yes' to the above question then you know how powerful this technique can be. If, on the other hand, you gave the more likely answer 'no' then take heart for I am about to reveal to you a sure fire way of reaching your objectives through this mostly misunderstood art.

The trouble with visualization is simple - its in its name!

When studying and contemplating the art of visualization most people have the impression that they must create visual images and make them real or life-like. Many people, in fact the majority, find this almost impossible to do. Even if they can formulate a solid picture of their objective they find it extremely difficult to sustain the image for any length of time. Either the image fades, changes or other intruding thoughts intervene.

This type of visualization is almost impossible to sustain and luckily it is not at all necessary. Why? Because it is in the subconscious mind that your visualization needs to be placed and there is good news. The subconscious mind does not know the difference between an imaginary event and a real one. Your visual image only needs to be a strong visually as any other imagined event. However, that is only half the story.

If all you had to do was just imagine stuff and your world automatically changed to reflect your imaginings this world would be full of chaos (not to mention all those creepy crawly bug-eyed monsters!). Therefore, there are a few more steps to complete before the visualization is passed to the subconscious for manifestation.

Let's try a little experiment. Remember a scene from your past that has a lot of good feelings around it. Any good memory will do, like the first time you heard the words "I love you" from your partner, an amazingly spectacular sunset, a great holiday event or your last birthday. Pick one and remember it. How clear is the image? Can you remember any sounds? What way did you feel? Is there any sense of touch, taste or smell? Identify how your memory works. Is it mostly visual, auditory, kinaesthetic or of a feeling nature?

Now we are going to create an imagined event in our lives that has the same strength and potency as that image. So relax and let's go.

Imagine something that you do everyday, something that you did yesterday, today and will do tomorrow. Let us take the example of waking up tomorrow morning. Don't try to add or take anything away, just think about it and analyse the scene. Is it dark or light? Are you lying next to someone in bed? Do you still feel tired? Has the alarm clock sounded? Are you irritable that you have to get up or full of joy at the dawn of a new day?

You will find that the imagined event is very similar to the memory with probably one key difference - your point of perspective. Is the memory behind you and the future event in front of you? Is one to the left and one to the right? Maybe they are both in front of you or the future seems to move in a clockwise direction. Whatever the perspective the thing to notice is that they are very similar in appearance.

Now imagine doing your future event a week from now, then a month from now, then six months from now. Where are those images placed? Are they moving further away, going clockwise, from left to right? This is your time-line and using it is important in visualization as you will see later.

Ok, let's imagine something that is very unlikely to happen and see where it differs from the last image.

Imagine you are sitting somewhere familiar which is extremely comfortable and relaxing to you. Now imagine that a person you know well comes up to where you are and says "hello". Imagine them telling you that they want to show you a new trick. All of a sudden they have three juggling balls. They throw them in the air and begin to juggle with ease. Then they begin to whistle one of your favourite tunes. You suddenly realize that there is a strong smell of flowers in the room and notice a vase of them just behind the juggler. Imagine laughing loudly at the scene and feeling joyful at the experience. Then the person juggling leans forward stands on leg and puts the other leg outstretched behind them. All the while still juggling and whistling. Then they begin to hop on their leg as a small bird flies over to perch on their head. Once you have the imagined event and stayed with it a few moments just let it fade.

Ok open your eyes. What was the difference between the two images? Can you spot any? Did you use more, less or roughly the same senses in your fantasy event as you did in the future one? Did you see them from different angles? Was the picture bigger in one than the other? Was the sound clearer, the feelings more acute or the smell stronger? Take some time and go back to each scene in your mind. How does the future event differ from the fantasy one? Are you looking at both from a different vantage point? Do you see yourself in the image of one but not the other? Analyse the scenes and see where they differ.

Have you identified how the future event differs from the fantasy one? If you have then its time to make visualization work for you! Take a goal that you have been working on or would like to achieve. Nothing too far-fetched at this point please! Pick something that is possible but at the moment seems a little impractical. Once you have it form a mental image of what it would be like to have, be or do that thing or be in that experience. Remember to form it the same way you do a memory. Give it the same strength visually, in sound, feeling, taste and touch - use your mind in its natural state. All you have to do is imagine the scene.

Ok how does it differ from the scene of waking in the morning? Can you identify the differences in perspective, sound, taste, touch, feelings and what you hear?

Now there will be one other key thing that differs in the images- it is very simple but often overlooked. You know that the future event is going to happen! This is reflected in the way we experience the image. So what we are going to do is fool your subconscious mind into thinking your goal is definitely going to happen by manipulating your goal image!

Once you know what the differences are in each image begin to change the goal image so that it is seen the same way as the future event in your imagination. Place the visualized scene in exactly the same position with the same perspective as your future event.

Place it in the correct position on your time-line. You may already begin to feel that the goal is more possible. Visualise in this way everyday and you will condition your subconscious mind to manifest the experiences necessary to make your goal attainment certain.

One more thing to remember: During the day think about your goal often. This reinforces the visualization and will begin to dispel doubt from your mind. personal development

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