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Does your Grocery Store Limit Work in Progress?

by Mark Levison, 5 May 2011 | Lean Development

This content is syndicated from Agile Pain Relief » Blog by Mark Levison. To view the original post in full, click here.

Shopping in our local Grocery Store (Farm Boy) on a recent Saturday made me realize what a good job they do Limiting Work in Progress (WIP) and Self Organizing. Driving into the parking lot with my 4yr old, I was dreading the busyness of the store. When I got in the place was packed, trying to manoeuvre even a small cart with a 4yr old driving was quite the experience. I had expected to the checkout experience to be easily 10 minutes long, an eternity even with the best behaved child.

When I entered the store there were only a few people on cash and the lines seemed to be building, by the time we were ready to checkout half an hour later all 9 cashes were open and we waited less than two minutes.

What happened? A couple of conversations with cashiers have helped me piece together the key points:

So effectively they’ve seemed to discovered the
href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_Constraints" >Theory of Constraints (TOC) and they Self Organize to eliminate the bottleneck. Their system is informal, but even without sophisticated measurements you can still observe and eliminate bottlenecks. Compare this to another large Canadian grocery chain where I often line up for 10+ minutes, just waiting to get to the front of the line. Guess which store gets more of my business?

In the software world QA, especially when all the tests are run manually. is often the constraint we find. So we need to take steps to eliminate the bottleneck:

Eventually QA stops being the bottleneck, at which point we re-examine the system to see if the bottleneck has moved again. When that happens take similar steps all over again to eliminate the next bottleneck.

What Bottlenecks have you observed in your grocery store? Your development process?

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