Customer is always right and sometimes undefined

. Monday, November 10, 2008

You may remember the cartoon  about ‘IT Project Management’

This is a great similitude and fits for most IT projects.

In this post, I would like to tell you about a project of mine which is different at the beginning.

Normally customers may request features that are contradictional, those contradictions are eliminated during project design in co ordinance with customer.

One of our customers requested us a project.  It was a modification on an existing assembly line which was developed by our team.

Let’s see how our customer described the request:
“We need to see cycle times of all stations on a web page, and also want to warn the operator on exceeding the cycle time.”

That’s all? No.

“We have a limited budget and don’t want to spend too much money and don’t want operators to do extra operations for reporting cycle times.”

Yes, that’s all. I just imagined the cartoon below:

On the left, how most of the customers explain their request. And on the right, my customer.

A warning light lit in my mind, it may be risky without handshaking clearly. Something was wrong.

So I asked:
“What do you want to get by reporting cycle times?”

The answer was:
“For line balancing of course”

Well, no more information.  Just all, we had to guess what customer is really requesting.

First of all, “cycle times of all stations” was cloudily, because assembly lines don’t have distinct cycle times. Assembly lines have an average cycle time during a time interval, and that is calculated as:

Cycle Time = (Total time spent [e.g. in a shift]) / (Total number of products)

It’s the average time needed to produce one product, and it is same for all stations because all stations are cascaded to each other.

So, probably the customer was mentioning “operation times” actually.  Now it was clearer, probably customer wanted to see “how their assembly line balanced, and how efficiently working”

Even customer did not request clearly, they should need the following reports:
-          Where are bottlenecks? (To consider dividing station or sharing some operations between neighbor stations)
-          Where are the most inefficient stations? (This is different than bottleneck. Some stations may cause scrap and it is possible to detect if any station is producing more products than final stations output.

In most cases, data collecting terminals are placed on assembly lines to collect number of products and operation times, but ,in this project customer did not want to add anything. 

Customer also did not wanted the answer of question “why my assembly line stopped in a certain time interval”

We had approximately 70 stations with operators. Operators have pushbuttons to send the product to next station. We were going to take necessary information from this buttons and existing sensors.

As you see, some customers may have contradictional requests, and some have none.

We are going to start to a new series of a case study, collecting operation times from assembly line. We are going to tell about how to analyze the project and how to design.

I would be glad if you comment on this post, especially what would you like to see in the case study.


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Automation engineer especially working on PC software development. Formerly I was coding on PLC, but now I am using mostly Visual Basic on PC.