Leaning on Liebig’s Barrel

Since trying to learn about Lean software development I’ve kept bumping into ‘The Theory of Constraints’. An article on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-theory-constraints-steve-holcomb?trk=hp-feed-article-title-like has shown me this diagram

on Wikipedia’s entry about

It illustrates that the capacity of the barrel is limited by the shortest stave but I’m left wondering what the appropriate fix would be, in Lean philosophy.

My ‘engineering’ solution would be to replace the top of that stave, up to brim level and consider ordering a new top hoop. It would use more material but wouldn’t make much difference to the time and effort required and would provide a strong structure for fixing the rest of the barrel, when resources were available. I might get a new barrel or a recycled-plastic water-butt.

By different logic, there is no point repairing above the next constraint – or maybe the one after. Or I could nail a metal hoop around the top of the barrel and suspend a good bin-liner. Maybe that would hold it until the wood dried out, shrank and the barrel collapsed. I guess I’m saying that the Lean concept of ‘process waste’ seems a slippery animal to get hold of.

[Please don’t take the barrel analogy too literally. I know that the wood used for software is more stretchy and staves can be invoked multiple times but there are still times when a bit more effort now will save trouble later or ‘the thing’ has become structurally unsound.]


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