The hikers symbolize the manufacturing process at Alex’s industrial plant. They illustrate how dependent events and statistical fluctuations can cause compounding delays in a system, and how those delays can be mitigated using a system’s bottlenecks. As Alex hikes with his son Dave’s Boy Scout troop, he notices that the single-file line of hikers struggles to stay together. The slower kids disrupt the pace of the faster kids, hikers stop and start, and each boy is limited by the pace of all the boys in front of him. Although everyone can maintain a reasonable average of two miles per hour individually, the fact that each child is limited by the speed of every hiker in front of him causes any delays within the line of hikers to accumulate and compound. This illustrates how, every time a minor delay occurs in the manufacturing process, that delay is carried through every subsequent stage of the system. Any time lost to delays is nearly impossible to recover, because each stage in the process can only move as fast as every stage in front of it, some of which are slow and some of which are fast.
When the fast hikers are positioned in the front and the slowest hikers in the back, every hiker is able to hike at their maximum speed. Although Alex at first thinks this might work well, he realizes that the group quickly stretches so far out that, in the back, there is half a mile between him and the boy at the front. His speed at the back remains as slow as the slowest hiker, Herbie, who represents the group’s bottleneck. In terms of the manufacturing system, Alex realizes that the increasing distance between the fastest hiker and himself represents the plant’s increasing inventory, which loses them money. Meanwhile, his own slow speed, constrained by Herbie, represents the plant’s low throughput.
However, Alex realizes that by reversing the order and organizing the hikers from slowest to fastest, every hiker is able to match the speed of the hiker in front of him. Although the overall pace is slower than the fastest hikers, the group stays together, symbolizing the idea that inventory remains low when bottlenecks set the pace in manufacturing. Additionally, since there are no more starts and stops or delays as they regroup, Alex realizes that the group’s average pace is higher than it was before. This illustrates that, by organizing a system and pacing it according to its bottleneck, a manufacturing system can maintain a more consistent and overall higher output.
The Hikers Quotes in The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
Our hike is a set of dependent events…in combination with statistical fluctuations. Each of us is fluctuating in speed, faster and slower. But the ability to go faster than average is restricted. It depends upon all the others ahead of me in line. So even if I could walk five miles per hour, I couldn’t do it if the boy in front of me could only walk two miles per hour. And even if the kid directly in front of me could walk that fast, neither of us could do it unless all the boys in the line were moving at five miles per hour at the same time.