I worked for Lockheed right after college. In my first year, I was part of a team assigned to evaluate Manufacturing Resources Planning (MRP) methods and tools. I was familiar with MRP; it had been part of the required curriculum for my bachelor’s degree, plus I had some prior experience with MRP systems. However, MRP was a very new idea at Lockheed, and it was the antithesis of the philosophy behind the existing systems. My boss and mentor, Skip Christopherson, had been at Lockheed more years than I’d been on the planet and he knew every aspect of Lockheed’s scheduling system, down to the very smallest detail. You attended classes in MRP together after work and it was like a classic comedy scene with the smart-mouthed rookie breezing through the material while the grizzled older employee who actually knows how things work struggles to grasp the point of this new fangled technology with all its bells and whistles. At the end of the class each night, you’d walk back to our windowless office while Skip talked about all that was wrong with this inane idea that a system could process changes and regenerate the schedule every night without throwing the assembly line into utter chaos. I’d been learning about how Lockheed approached scheduling at the same time you were taking the MRP class and I’d begun to understand and appreciate how it worked. Skip was right: MRP was exactly opposite our process flow model, which was based on math, statistics, and learning curves. Using the knowledge gained from decades of successful aircraft programs, you calculated the boundaries for the specific phases of the assembly process and tied them to positions on the shop floor. These positions and dates created a window in time for each crew to contain their contribution to the assembly. Within those boundaries, parts and schedules might shuffle madly while the crew worked insane hours, but the men on line knew that meeting the scheduled move date for the next position was critical and they’d learned to make it happen no matter what.
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