The theory of cowboys, that is (atypically) about process control

Process control – introduction


Organization, control and management of processes in a company is a real challenge. In practice, it raises many questions:

– Is the process proceeding correctly or not?

– what is a “normal” situation, and when are we dealing with non-standard activities?

– when to respond to deviations and who should do it?

– how to deal with atypical situations?

– why control processes?

– what is the role of managers, leaders, brigadiers, … ?


The “theory of cowboys” (read in the thicket of information on the web), although it sounds somewhat ridiculous, perfectly explains the sense of organization and process control. It also helps to find the answer to the questions mentioned above, the purpose of the audit, the standard of the process and the role of the management.



“The theory of cowboys”


How many cowboys are needed to drive a herd of 3,000 cows from one end of the state to another?








Hmmm … the answer is not so simple for the type of stage.

First of all, we need to know how this kind of cattle is going, ie what is the standard process.

Second – what is cowboy work?



And so …



Chasing cattle (generally speaking) is that the cows are going on a long herd. And until any cow begins to try to disconnect from the rest of the herd – cowboys have nothing to do. They calmly follow the cattle, observe and watch for the cows to move forward.

From time to time, however, a cow tries to disconnect from the others and go to the side. And then the cowboy reacts – rushing to the cow and chasing her back to the herd.

The more cows in the herd, the more likely it is that some of them will become detached from the rest, so the cowboy must react quickly and firmly.



So what is the standard process like?

The cows are walking along a designated route, one herd.

What is the role of a cowboy?

In the standard course of the process, you do not have to do anything, do not have to react and take no action. He just follows the herd and observes.


When does the cowboy start working?

When the cow disconnects from the herd for a certain distance. The specified distance is the one that the cowboy allows, and which allows him to calmly catch up with the escaping cow, without losing sight of the other cows.



“Production cowboy” and his “herd”


Similarly, as cowboys on American pastures supervise their herd of cows, so Manager / Brygadziści / Leaders oversee the processes in the enterprise.

The wandering herd of cows is nothing but a production process.

Escaping a cow, however, is all kinds of deviations – failures, deficiencies, quality errors, downtime, corrections, etc.

If the standard of the course of the process is set, tolerance limits for deviations are defined – production “cowboys” (ie leaders, foremen, coordinators) do not have to do anything, they only need to observe the process. They also do not have to involve anyone to handle the process outside of employees (operators).

The situation deviating from the standard is immediately visible and transparent. It is a signal that a decision-maker, eg Manager, must take action, who will take care of the problem and take appropriate action.





Machine failure causes the production line to stop. Downtime, however, means that products are not manufactured. Going further – there are no products, so there is no sale, and consequently no income, etc.

As you can see in this example, the deviation which is a failure causes a number of consequences. This situation undoubtedly requires an immediate response from the management. Immediate … so we’re talking about “extinguishing a fire”.

In order for the cowboy to be able to observe the process calmly, actions should be taken much earlier, when the first results started to deviate from the norm, which would indicate a problem with the machine.

Too late, the reaction triggers an avalanche of questions and actions:

– Engage additional funds in express repair?

– Start overtime work to make up for production?

– Set work over the weekend?

– And maybe shorten the reviews and perform them briefly, to gain some time to catch up?

Lack of unambiguous information about the standard and limits of tolerance means that the Leader, Foreman or Manager does not know when to start reacting, which is an unusual situation. As a consequence, the management team must intervene and extinguish fires non-stop.

And the ideal situation would be to supervise the process as the proverbial cowboy supervises his flock – ie, a perfect manager can organize work, standards and processes so that he can minimize his decision-making work. (Well then, the subordinates will murmur that “he does not do anything all day and he earns coconuts“; p).



And returning to the question asked at the beginning of the entry:

How many cowboys are needed to drive a herd of 3,000 cows from one end of the state to another?


The answer is: I do not know how many. I have no experience in chasing away cows 🙂

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