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What’s Your Bottleneck to Success?

Anyone familiar with “Herbie” from Eli Goldratt’s The Goal? If you aren’t, let me fill you in on the character in the classic book. (And if you just looked it up, don’t judge the book by its 1980s cover. It’s a good read and a bestseller. I promise.)

Herbie is a scout troop on a hike, and he’s slow. That’s a problem for the troop. They need to reach their destination, but they must stay together. Every time the troop picks up steam, they have to stop and wait for Herbie. So, what does the troop do? They try and find ways for Herbie to keep up. They encourage him. It’s not enough. They lighten his load by dispersing his supplies among the scouts. It’s still not enough. Finally, the scout leader moves Herbie to the front of the line. Now he sets the pace. Although the line moves slower, it keeps moving. 

Herbie is Goldratt’s analogy for his “theory of constraints”—the viewpoint that a small number of limitations slow down success. It’s simple, brilliant and 100 percent applicable to the glazing industry. Companies must find their “Herbie” if they are to increase efficiency and continue offering reliable, quality products and services.

 So, how do you find your “Herbie” and keep moving forward, keep growing, keep innovating? Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Identify your current constraints

It might seem obvious, but taking some time to identify your bottleneck(s), either in your personal work or in your company, is key. Are lead times bogged down by manufacturing? If product output is efficient, is research and development stalled? What about your best glazier or sales rep? Is he or she stretched too thin? The start of the year is a great time to investigate your work with fresh eyes and find out where the smallest improvements will yield the biggest return. What needs to be moved to the front of the line to set the pace?

  1. Clear a path

Once you’ve identified your “Herbie,” clear a path and make room for success. What is blocking the process from flowing at an optimal rate? Remove the obstacle and the flow increases. This is a simplified statement, of course. It may take time, training and resources to clear a path, but the investment is always worth it.

  1. Make a continuous improvement plan

When you remove one “Herbie” or limitation, another one will invariably pop up. By committing to continuous improvement, you are establishing a culture of continuous change.  For example, when you start by increasing efficiency to improve production you will uncover opportunities in supply chain, engineering and so on. Larger companies sponsor programs such as LEAN or Six Sigma (Green and Black Belt).  Hopefully your efforts will yield substantial returns quicker than you initially expected.    

  1. Introduce smart change

Change and innovation are at the heart of the glazing industry. We adapt and produce new products and services to meet the ever-changing needs of the architectural community. When design professionals called for larger lites of glass, the industry responded. When they needed fire-rated glass that could defend against flames, smoke and intruders, we answered as well. These are good, often necessary changes. But in seasons of innovation, it’s important to remember too much of a good thing is possible. Competing initiatives can undermine one another and put the core business at risk, introducing bottlenecks where there were none before. Let’s keep working together, but smartly, to move this industry forward!


Dave Vermeuelen

David Vermeulen

David Vermeulen is the North America Sales Director at Technical Glass Products (TGP), a division of Allegion that supplies fire-rated glass and framing systems, and other specialty architectural glazing. Contact him at 800/426-0279.