When can waiting speed things up?

The full consulting kitWhen can waiting get you to the finish faster?  When you wait until everything is ready, and then move quickly. 

Rudi Burkhard, one of my Theory of Constraints colleagues, has started blogging and has a piece on project management that mentions the idea of Full Kit.  We use this concept in our consulting practice as well.  Rudi also points to an article by Boaz Ronen on the topic, which applies more to manufacturing environments.  My focus has been so heavy on projects that I hadn't put it together that it really can apply anywhere.  Ronen's article, The Complete Kit Concept (pdf) was published in 1992 in International Journal of Production Research, Vol.30, No.10, pp. 2457-2466, 1992.

The essence of the full kit idea is that you should wait until everything is ready before beginning a job.  This could be an individual working on a task, or it could be the entire project.  Start only when you have everything you need to successfully complete the activity.

Depending on where you come from, this either sounds like it makes perfect sense or it is crazy talk.  In either case, if you look around, you can find many cases where work begins without having all the requisite materials (raw materials, tools, parts, information, approvals, designs, etc) to complete the job.  How much stuff do you know about that is sitting half-finished?  One of the major reasons for this is that it didn't have full kit when it started.  I love the discussion in the two references above because there is a vicious cycle involved when you allow things to start without full kit.  Let's see if I can replicate it here:

The partial kit vicious cycle:

Start work --> Have to stop to wait for missing elements.  Start something else (without full kit) --> Stop wait for missing elements.  Start -> Stop.  Resume and discover something else is missing.  Even worse, discover that the missing thing got "stolen" and put into something else.  The time is lost, do you steal the parts back, killing both jobs?  Start -> Stop.  Discover that the missing elements are nowhere near completion.  Go berserk.  Finally get the element, and expedite like crazy.  Quality errors because of the rush job.  Quality errors because it has been sitting around for weeks.  Rework.  Miss deadlines anyway.  Decide to start earlier this time, because that will ensure that you finish on time.  Except you start without full kit, and there are a dozen other things laying around.  Fewer and fewer things get done as more and more partial work piles up.  Death by good intention.

Of course, there is a virtuous cycle if you are able to change to full kit.  Please note: that this isn't the only thing that will "fix" the system.  Full kit should be part of an overall approach to your business.  The virtuous cycle should look something like this:

Start work --> complete it.  Start the next job -> complete it.  Priorities become clearer with fewer things in process.  Quality is better because everything is there when you start, and you can focus.  Speed is better because you aren't waiting and waiting.  Customer changes drop because you waited for their final designs.  All work completes faster, and you spend much less time on each job.  The result?  You get more work done by waiting.

[Photo: "The full consulting kit" by Dion Hinchcliffe]

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