Divergence or Convergence? Part II

Sept. 15, 2002
I was in awe in how fast a documented, thought-out approach can be thrown into the trash bin

In the middle of this $40 million project study I told you about last month, I sold a house, bought another one, and moved in. For those who have gone through that process, you know how scatter-brained you can become. That was me. More so than normal.

The importance of using divergent thinking in this study was never higher. This project has to come in under budget, and they are over already, despite what I recommended. There's just no right way to do the wrong thing.

I set out to develop data for why a group of PLCs should carry the responsibility of tracking material through a myriad of buildings and to present options on how they could do it. Plant-floor control always stays on the floor, right?

What I find the most frustrating is trying to pull a common thread of requirements from all departments and people. There wasn't one, so I created my own and brought these people into it.

The common thread was recovery. Nothing matters if everything is working right. It's when things go wrong that everyone's stomach churns.

The change in the process was to track the movement of product using motor-driven conveyance systems and pop-up transfer points between multiple buildings. They had only moved product between two buildings before, but now there were nine to deal with.

They didn't want to spend a gazillion dollars on bar-code readers, and they didn't want to disturb a system that works.

There also is a DEC Alpha cluster that maintains the product database and tells the PLCs where to find and put product, but not how to get there. OK, fine, I showed them how it's done.

I was amazed at how easily ideas flowed together. Once you had that top action item, like transfer fault recovery, it became easy to define the different issues surrounding this topic from departmental feedback.

I developed three options with alternatives within these options. All had features and benefits, and all had costs associated with them, but it was clear which one should be used. I had all the bases covered and presented it in my best managerial style.

It was important to show all options. I recommended the alternative that would work the best, plus an option that included the use of a few bar code readers. All departments agreed, and we had consensus. This would be presented to the gods for approval.

That was four weeks ago as of this writing.

I soon realized that logic and common sense would disappear. A distinct power struggle emerged, and political agendas were raised.

I was in awe in how fast a documented, thought-out approach can be thrown into the trash bin. The right thing to do was being challenged.

Management was hung up on whether the PLCs or the DEC-driven database application should validate product position on the floor. They are ready to throw out the complete study pending the answer to that question.

My head was spinning. This part of the puzzle is 5% of the complete picture.

So, I did my own private, convergent thinking process, and looked at various angles and components to make the system work as best as it could. You know, to do the right thing.

Thank goodness for the methodical and researched approach that divergence gives you. The convergent action allows you to prove your methods, and to separate the wheat from the chaff, if you will.

I took the framework and separated it all so everyone could see all the parts. I also component-ized the approach to success from the divergent framework. This allowed the right decision to surface--again: PLCs should do the job.

An opinion-based approach (read: dartboard) would have doomed my recommendations. I could have been branded with the proverbial "can't see the forest for the trees" label. But, I still can lead them out of their forest.

I fear the political decision may still be made, even though the facts have been methodically laid out. Leaders always do the right thing, don't they?

I think I'm winning because I can prove it's the right thing to do. There's no place for apathy here. Fight and win, in this case with divergent/convergent thinking.

The gods still ponder, however, as we speak.

Meanwhile, check out http://faculty.washington.edu/ezent/imdt.htm. You'll see what convergence and divergence can do for you.

E-mail Jeremy through his web site: www.tsuonline.com.