June 14, 2013
Optimize & Suboptimize

gemba walk” (lean thinking term) to go to the actual place where value is added + “walkabout” (Australian aborigine) a short period of wandering bush life engaged as an occasional interruption of regular work . Mike Stoecklein . mstoecklein@createvalue.org . my employer gave me that e-mail address, but the ideas and opinions below are mine.

My job is to optimize a peer-to-peer learning network.  What does that mean?

We have member organizations all over North America.  Not everyone can get together all of the time face to face (we do our best once a year with our annual Summit - see last 50+ posts).  In order to optimize the experience for all, we design and redesign systems and processes that facilitate learning, sharing and connecting between all of the members.

Here’s an example.  Just yesterday, we sponsored a webinar that featured an organization in Indiana and one in New York.  They described their approaches to education and training around lean concepts.  During the webinar, one of the participants (from Pennsylvania) acknowledged and thanked one of the presenters for some things he and learned.  The presenter thanked the Pennsylvania guy in return.  As it turns out, the New York folks paid a visit to the Pennsylvania folks.  This would not have happened without the systems and processes that support the network.

After the webinar, the two presenters and I exchanged some e-mails.  Both presenters mentioned and expressed thanks for what they had learned from each other.  This would not have happened without our help (the webinar), and it will lead to future interactions and sharing.

The system works.  But what does “optimization” mean?  Sometimes, ideas are put forth by members to make things better.  We ask for these ideas all of the time and specifically during our advisory council meetings.  We try to act on as many of the ideas as we can, but we can’t act on all of them.  My job is to optimize the whole, not the parts.

Dr. Deming talked about this a lot.  And you can read about it in his books.  In The New Economics, he illustrates the concept of optimizing the system as follows:
Dr. Deming proceeds to illustrate with a simple 3-part system (company).
This is a simple (3-part) system.  The system I oversee has 50+ members, so the grid would be much bigger.

The table below shows the idea of optimization.
This shows that, without thinking about impact on the overall system (all members), there are some winners, but also losers and the net effect for the system as a whole is a loss.
With some understanding of optimization of the system, the benefits are shared by all, even though (for some), they may not see it as a “win”.  By definition, optimization of the whole system means that some of the parts will be suboptimized.
And the process continues with exploration of further ideas - for the benefit of all.