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Simplicity is the foundation of powerful solutions! The Vector blog presents simple solutions to complex business challenges. We have stayed away from jargons and “confirming” data to prove a point. Instead simple straightforward logical narratives are used to present the solution. In these blogs you will get to know how TOC can be used to design breakthrough solutions which re-create harmony in work places.

Managing the COVID 19 crisis: A supply
chain approach

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While it is more deadly than the common flu, Covid-19 is less lethal than many diseases known to man. Yet, the global march of the novel Coronavirus is raising serious concerns. The human immune system had not experienced this organism before November 2019, when this virus is believed to have made the leap from animals to humans for the very first time. In all likelihood, we have no natural immunity against it.

The bigger problem is, that the virus is much more contagious than common flu. This is because unlike the common flu, which takes only two days to show symptoms, nCOVID-19 infected people take anywhere up to 14 days to experience symptoms. This long period of 14 days, means that infected people are likely to spread the illness asymptomatically for a long time before they themselves become ill.

Given the above, the disease has the potential to quickly overwhelm a country’s healthcare system and cause a severe demand-capacity asymmetry. The medical infrastructure of countries can quickly be overrun with an influx of patients, leading to a situation of rationing of lifesaving services and infrastructure. Such a situation of rationing can create a vicious loop of more people waiting for care, which in turn can infect even more, leading to a snowball effect.

Countries scrambling to handle this unprecedented public health challenge have been forced to take what are being described as draconian restrictions on travel and daily life to combat the virus and flatten the curve to levels that are manageable (like other diseases) by their healthcare systems. To most, a complete lockdown seems to be the only solution. Unfortunately, it comes at a huge economic cost.

The Lockdown Dilemma

In the early stages of any epidemic, the number of infected is always a small percentage of the total population. In India, at the time of writing this article, the infected is around 400, in a population of 1.3 billion. So, a lockdown means that in addition to the infected (who are few right now), the healthy too, are prevented from engaging in their daily activities such as traveling with dire consequences for their livelihood, and for the economic parameters of the whole country.

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Unlike many of the relatively wealthy or developed nations, this is a serious issue for a country like India where more than 86% of employment is in the unorganized sector and more than 62% workers are employed as daily wage earners who may not have the savings to survive a few days, let alone the recommended two weeks. Even in the organized sector, work-from-home is not an option in many situations. For instance, the manufacturing sector of India which accounts for 75% of the country’s industrial output, is very labour intensive. So, a severe lockdown does not seem to be a viable solution.

On the other hand, if the country doesn’t lockdown, and instead, depends on the citizens to self-regulate and practice social distancing or self-quarantine, it may not yield the desired results. As with any systemic level changes, left to individuals, it is very difficult to get proper subordination to the global objective. Individuals will act based on their individual perception of risk and their other conflicting needs like caring for their family, going to work etc., and will end up violating quarantine.

System-wide behavior changes cannot be attained by leaving it to individual choices!”

In a populous country like India, the number of infected can grow exponentially. If there is only one infected person at the beginning of a month, considering that the number of infected people doubles every three days, there will be 1024 infected by month end, about a thousand times as many as it began with. At this rate, the infection can quickly go out of control and much beyond the country’s medical infrastructure, leading to numerous deaths. So, a lockdown seems inevitable.

Either solution – allowing citizens to self-regulate OR enforcing a lockdown – can lead to havoc. How do we deal with this conflict? Using the TOC thinking process, we can arrive at a breakthrough solution to meet the competing needs of economy and health. This is possible, if and only if, we try to find the wrong assumption that is forcing us to stay in the dilemma.

The assumption that can be challenged is

  • – There is no practical way to identify the infected person, as soon as he gets the infection, and isolate the person.

Conclusion

The key insight which can help manage a pandemic is that, using the lever of interdependency between demand and capacity, the infected can be identified and isolated from population. Demand side management actions has a risk of affecting the economy negatively, but if these are judiciously used with along capacity ramp up tactics to prevent an emergent bottleneck in the flow line, a nation can ride over the crisis while managing the humanitarian costs of such a crisis.

Note by authors: This article has been written in March 2020, while the corona virus has already affected more than 192 countries. There are a lot of discussions in the media; much data has been gathered by now. Offering these suggestions, in hindsight, for handling the pandemic is far simpler now than it was at the onset of the virus’s rampage. Nevertheless, the authors feel that TOC way of thinking helps offer robust solutions, and can be used to solve systemic problems, whether these problems are faced by organizations or countries . This article is an attempt to showcase the value TOC principles can add.

Managing the COVID 19 crisis: A supply chain approach

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