By Tom Davidson
My first lesson in maximizing capacity was when I was 11 years old, delivering newspapers, but the principle applies to every leader, team, and organization. The principle is this: C = f (H ,T, M), in other words, capacity (C) is a function of horsepower (H), time (T), and motivation (M).
While it might seem funny to younger readers, newspapers across America used to be delivered to doorsteps by an army of little feet, children and teenagers earning what they could for bubble gum, bicycles, and summer camp. My first major paper route of about 90 homes was for The Washington Post, and it included delivering the paper, adding customers, and collecting the monthly fee by knocking on doors.
With my first route, I could get the papers delivered before school during the week and by 9:00 am on most Sundays (when it wasn’t raining). The capacity problem arose when I took on a second paper route when the adjacent neighborhood became available. If one route was good, I thought, then two would be better! The only problem was that it more than doubled the number of papers, and there was still just one of me!
To my 11-year-old mind, the only variable I could change was to start earlier. So my new routine was to meet the delivery truck on the first route when it arrived, about 4:30 am, so I could get the earliest possible start. This bought me just enough time for weekdays and Saturdays (when the paper was only half-an-inch thick), but Sundays were a disaster (when the paper was three times that size and ad pages had to be inserted in each newspaper)!
Most Sundays it took me until after 10:30 am to get all the papers delivered, far too late to maintain a happy customer base for long. Even alternating the delivery route backfired. My new strategy was to spread the pain among my customers so that those who had gotten their papers late the previous Sunday got their papers early on the next one.
But when it came time to collect on the bills, all the customers remembered the late papers and none remembered the early ones! With the doubled route size and tripled paper weight on Sunday, I had put myself in the capacity conundrum with all the best intentions and all the worst results.
What’s Your Paper Route?
The capacity conundrum says that one’s quality production capacity is limited by the variables of horsepower (i.e., people, equipment, resources, or capital), available time, and motivation (i.e., discretionary effort, creativity, focus, and energy), and it reaches a point of diminishing returns when the three variables are exhausted.
By now you’ve met this monster on the job as well, not only as an individual contributor but as a frontline leader responsible for the capacity of your work unit. Your choices are limited, but knowing what they are is half the battle. Having a heart-to-heart with yourself, your boss and your team can be much harder, so here are the questions you need to ask.
Questions and Choices
C is for Capacity
H is for Horsepower
T is for Time
M is for Motivation
In short, you don’t have to fall victim to the capacity conundrum. Like that big elephant, break it down into smaller chunks using the formula C = f (H ,T, M) to see what you CAN affect before all your customers remember are those bad Sunday deliveries!