Complexity in Manufacturing: Some Lessons to Learn in Planning and Implementation

G. Sunderraman
1998 Vikalpa The Journal for Decision Makers  
This paper by Sunderraman explains the need to complement the reductionism of planning' with the holism of 'learning' from the perspective of the new science of complexity. The interconnectedness, nonlinearity, discontinuity, feed back loops and human interventions make manufacturing a complex adaptive system. Inherent complexity and random perturbations cause unpredictable fluctuations in manufacturing at all levels. The learning heuristics of adaptive system can effectively tackle situations
more » ... n manufacturing where the underlying cause structure is unknowable or difficult to isolate. The basic understanding of the tenets of chaos and complexity helps respond to manufacturing reality. The appreciation of real-time learning as a useful complement to planning will bridge the growing divide between implementors and planners in manufacturing. G Sunderraman is Vice-President, Quality and Strategic Planning, Godrej-GE Appliances, Mumbai. The central conundrum of management in general and manufacturing in particular is uncertainty. Invariably, some variant of planning tools is used to bring in a degree of predictability. The students of management are armed with mathematical and statistical techniques to tackle the problems of optimization under uncertain conditions. Many of these tools are powerful approaches. However, these models and planned education rarely produce the 'successful' manufacturing professional. The successful operations executive has been a great implementor, not a meticulous planner. He views the solutions that the academics produce. with skepticism, while the problems that he faces are not stimulating for academics. The 'educated' professionals attribute the less than optimal implementation results to attitude and organizational resistance to change. Practitioners grudge the reluctance of theoreticians to appreciate the reality of manufacturing. This is at the root of the divide between planners and implementors. The Manufacturing Reality A typical day in the life of the manufacturing personnel begins with the leftover problems of the previous dayshortfalls, shortages, last minute changes, and their adverse impact on the plan. The day also brings in new disturbances -critical machine failure, tool breakage, unsettled changeover, staff absenteeism, accident, power fluctuation, critical material rejection, dispatch shortfall, and so on. Most of the organizations do have plans -plans for production, preventive maintenance, quality, manpower deployment, material procurement, inventory optimization and so on. Yet, the disturbing situation in manufacturing is typical of Indian industry. The scale differs, the magnitude fluctuates, the impact varies, but the central issues and the essential pattern remain the same. The detailed plan numbers get missed to varying extent. And still, surprisingly, for each cluster of micro numbers missed, some crucial macro number is almost always achieved -somehow in time. The experienced implementor masters the complexity thrown at him at random in rapid succession. The novice in the manufacturing field soon
doi:10.1177/0256090919980306 fatcat:pgo6n5zhfzdqrgrlzfon5rtuy4