The Chain of Life
The Chain of Life

The Chain of Life

Let’s look at how an assembly line works. Each person (assembler) in an assembly line has a specific task that they’re required to complete for the item passing down the line to help build a finished product. Assembly lines were created specifically for efficiency, and the basic example given is a car, where instead of a team working one car at a time, they can work on three cars simultaneously.

Using the example from the link, we’re talking about completing the steps of installing an Engine, a Hood, and Wheels. These installations cannot happen while other work is going on, and each step takes a certain amount of time. While the team is working on installing the hood and wheels, we have cars lining up ready for the engine just sitting around, since it can only be done one at a time. We could hire more teams to build more cars but each team will only be building one car at a time. With an assembly line, we can split the tasks among the teams instead, and hand the car off to the next team when each one finishes their task. In this way Team 1 finishes the Engine and hands the car off to Team 2 for the Hood which allows them to start work on the second car. When Team 2 passes it on to Team 3 for the Wheels, Team 1 is on the third car and Team 2 is on the second car. In this way we’ve improved productivity by allowing three cars to be worked on simultaneously with only a small drop in productivity when the first and second car are passing through the line.

Success of the assembly line can be measured based on the total number of cars assembled, however if the number is normally 100 cars a day, and one day the number is 75, it’s impossible to know where the failure was. Business owners create metrics to track the overall business but also need independent metrics of all the resources. In addition to total number of cars complete, we’ll need to see how many cars passed through each assembly team. If the engine team completed 75 cars then we know they are the source of the failure and can investigate what happened there. If however they passed 100 cars and the Hood team only did 75 then we know they’re the reason for the failure. It’s important to note that the failure doesn’t belong to just one teams only, but is reflected in the overall assembly line as they only passed 75 total cars. This is because as a team (or chain) the performance, or success, is capped to the success of the weakest link in that chain.

A chain is only as good as its weakest link

Being a good team member, and working towards the best interests of the team, it’s important to always be on the lookout for the weak links to help reinforce and strengthen them, as long as its not to the detriment of yourself and your own responsibilities. This is true regardless of you being the team leader or not as everyone involved is reflected by the overall success or failure of the team. Everyone that is working on the team are directly linked, and the failure or success is shared by all.

We can add a new dimension to the concept of everyone being linked. Something that has always amazed me is how everything in the world can be connected to everything else. We use analogies as teaching tools, and explain how the concept in the analogy relates to the concept we are trying to teach. In my own professional capacity I’ve used analogies such as water flowing through pipes, the USPS Mail System, or driving a car on a road, to help explain seemingly unrelated concepts such as Computer Networking, or the way a Computer Hardware works. This is because any structure that exists in the world will follow the same basic underlying formula, and in fact if you drill down further into the minutia of the concept to describe the micro phenomena that are occurring you’ll see the same formula exists over and over again.

This translates further than just using analogies as a teaching tool, practical experience (something well accepted as one of the best teachers) can teach you skills that translate even to seemingly unrelated areas! Some of the best network engineers I know are people who come from a completely unrelated background. The key is being able to view your experience through a perspective that lets you apply concepts from one to another.

A kitchen is an extremely stressful place to work, the head chef is extremely demanding, and requires perfection on every task. Customer orders are piling up and the slightest mistake will cause an order to be returned and the entire team to fall behind on the work load. Working as a project engineer, or a help desk technician nets more or less the same result, with different levels of severity. Even working in Healthcare, in the ER, or as a nurse in the doctors office, has a very similar feel to it; the core work remains the same, and the only thing that’s changed are the stakes.

If we drill down into the specifics of an assembly line you can actually see additional benefits that aren’t obvious at first glance. If you have a team focused solely on one specific set of tasks being done repetitively, you’ll find that their ability and speed with that one skill improves. Eventually you’ll have three teams highly proficient in the one skill they can complete which makes them surpass the efficiency level originally expected. However, one slip up with that task slows everyone down around them, as the work has to be undone and then redone, it throws off the cadence of the next team who are now waiting to start their work having finished on time, and overall takes a few complete runs of the assembly line for the teams to get back in rhythm. For those paying attention you’ll notice I just described the kitchen scenario again. I cannot stress enough how everything relates to everything else and if you’re looking for it you can always find something to learn and apply to all areas of life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.