Postscript - The Perfect Assignment
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was scheduled to certify a new airplane by June 29th. However, the FAA, always very careful, was concerned about a large number of the new parts that were approved by stress managers. The previous winter, the Stress Analysts (Engineers) that verify that the parts are strong enough and safe for flight had been on strike for 40 days with the other aircraft engineers. This concern wasn't raised by the FAA until early May. Two months is a very short time for a complex product in a big company.
One day, my manager, David, called me into his office, and told me without even a hello: "The Director of Engineering has asked his managers: 'Can you guys give me a simple guess, or even a wild guess, as to how many man-hours might be required for these design reviews the FAA is asking for?' " In response David said he shrugged, and replied: "I can't even give you a Rough Order of Magnitude estimate until I know at least a little about what's involved and how many design groups will need to review their parts."
In clarification, David added to me, "There are at least 43,000 newly designed parts that need our Stress Analysts to verify that the proper approvals were made. They must all be completed two weeks before the certification date of June 29th. Stress says they don't have the manpower to support such an endeavor. It's May 12th. You have four weeks. You must get it all done by June 16th. Personally, I don't see how it can be done. We don't even have a list of the parts yet. This may be your opportunity to show what your Theory of Constraints (TOC) can do to improve a process."
To begin with, we identified 104 Lead Engineers who would need to give their drawings to a few Stress Engineers for approval. Normally, a Lead Design Engineer sends each drawing separately to Stress Analysis for review. A Stress Engineer analyzes the load the part must take to determine if it's strong enough. We also found out that a list of about 5700 assemblies and the 43,000 parts would not be available for two weeks until at least May 24. I also found out I would only have two Stress Engineers to do the reviews. And then the parts list grew to 140,000 ...