Bill Dettmer and Philip Marris discuss various aspects of the Theory of Constraints

I was fortunate to propose parts of this discussion to Bill Dettmer and Philip Marris, in November 2014 in Paris, and to record as they discussed.

Among the topics: how the name “Theory of Constraints” generates rejection in the business community. The term “constraints management” is preferred by Bill Dettmer and Philip Marris. Philip points out problem is however overstated in the ToC community since approaches such as “Lean” and “Six Sigma” also have labelling issues.

Bill then answers the question “is the Thinking Process part of ToC?” He explains that in his point of view they are both ideas originated by Eliyahu Goldratt but that they can be viewed as separate entities.

Later in the talk, they discuss internal constraints, external constraints and policy constraints, external constraints versus constraints in Sales and Marketing. “Policy Constraints” or policy root causes are described as omnipresent.

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Goal Tree Chronicles – from Goal to action plan in a couple of hours


Chris HOHMANN – Author

In a previous post I described the utilisation of a Goal Tree to order ideas when working on a small project, a part of a project or an improvement plan.
In another post I gave answer to the question “is it worth the time and energy invested?”.

In this post I share my own benchmarks about time required to build a Tree.

1. Limited scope

Let’s begin with the “order the ideas” case.

When building a Goal Tree for such a limited scope, it takes a couple of hours from scratch to action plan. The action plan will contain a dozen actions and the Tree have about thirty entities.

Is it worth it?

One may question if building a Goal Tree for such a limited scope makes sense?

Yes it does. The Tree is not only a fine way to order ideas, it helps having a sound and robust series of Necessary Conditions (read requirements) without Nice-to-haves that would certainly add costs but not always more throughput.

A Goal Tree is also a very good communication tool.

People involved building Trees and Tree owners get usually good at telling the story and selling the Necessary actions to undertake, even they’re not used to present summaries and reports to any audience.

Henceforth, a Goal Tree is a collection of benchmarks, and if using my suggested color coding system, a convenient assessment tool. These benchmarks remain valid for a certain time.

So is it worth investing a couple of hours to get all of these? Yes it is. At least if communication and benchmarking is meant to be used.

2. Defining strategy

What about a broader scope, like setting up a strategic plan for mid or long term?

For such a broader scope the need for a longer time to build a Tree makes sense and it’s a bit more difficult to give an indication of required time. Depending upon the initial alignment of executives, discussion about the Goal and/or Critical Success Factors (CSFs) can take some time until all agree.

My experience with (French*) executives discovering the Goal Tree tells it can take up to several sessions to get the Goal and CSFs set.

*we French are famous for arguing, resist change and slow to get consensus, aren’t we?

Once this is achieved, I usually recommend to let the next line of managers work out the Necessary Conditions (NCs) and come back to execs with their proposals. If execs are to define the first NCs, it will usually take a little more time than with managers. The higher in the organisation, the more freedom to question everything.

To keep long story short, a strategic tree may take several days to have its top built (Goal and CSFs) in a sound and robust way.

According to the required width and depth of the Tree, additional time is necessary, especially if built in a participative way with subordinates.

Is it worth it?

Yes it is. First the previous arguments with limited scope are still valid with this broader one.

A Goal Tree defining the next years’ strategy is a great communication tool and a way to feed a Hoshin Kanri X matrix for those using it.

Such a Tree may remain valid for an extended period of time: 3 to 5 years, except for faster changing businesses.

So even investing several days to build a lasting Tree providing guidance for decisions and benchmarks is definitively worth it.

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Goal Tree Chronicles – ordering ideas

It was a young brilliant manager in charge of a part of a big project. He perfectly knew what actions had to be achieved yet got lost and confused at some point.

In order to put him on track again I proposed him to build a Goal Tree.

A Goal Tree always looks simple until you have to build one of your own.

It took several attempts and a lot of moving post-it notes around before having a good-looking and logically sound Tree.

I acted first as an instructor about how to build a Tree, then as a scrutinizer.

Over and over again I asked my “student” to speak aloud the sentence “in order to.. I/we need…” until he did it spontaneously.

Indeed, every time he got confused, lost or doubted, speaking the sentence aloud would serve as a validity test or a trigger for inspiration.

I knew little about his subject in the beginning but trial after trial, hearing the arguments spoken aloud and the answers to my scrutinizing questions, I got to understand enough to grasp the essential, confirming in this way the Goal Tree as a fantastic tool for storytelling and even “education”.

After the Tree was completed within a couple of hours, the young manager now clearly seeing the sequence of steps and the rationale behind it, was ready to present his Tree to his peers.

He did it in a relaxed and fluent way, confidence given by the Tree. His audience could follow easily his explanations and one of his fellow managers concluded it was crystal clear.

In this case the Goal Tree served as a tool to order ideas and then to “sell” them to an audience.

No doubt, some attendants understood the value of such a tool. I guess I will get more requests to coach Goal Tree building in this organization!

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Start less, finish more


Chris HOHMANN – Author

Four words of wisdom spoken by a manager in a department notorious for its long lists of actions (note I didn’t write action plan) and promises but a lousy transformation rate.

Looking closer on their usual way to solve problems or work on improvement revealed a common flaw in many organizations: the open loop.

The open loop is the belief that things will get done (simply) because someone put them on a list and presented them, without a control and feedback loop to ensure things really get done.

Usually the presenter refrains from any formal commitment and, as so often, what is called an action plan is a mere brainstorming or a wish list at best.

Complacent managers don’t demand due dates nor ownership, accountability neither clear assignment of tasks to someone.

As no one will track and check the real outcome of envisioned actions, they’ll get done only if someone has a personal benefit in it and/or by goodwill.

Complaints for the status quo remain rare as complainers fear being put in charge of carrying out or solve what they complain about.

Thus, no complaints, no problem.

Apparently, as nobody complains, issues seem to be solved, confirming that no closer tracking is needed.

The issues remaining hopelessly unsolved, people keep suffering in silence or find ways around, by-passes, arrangements, usually off standards and uncontrolled, sometimes hazardous.

These ‘solutions’ bring new problems, themselves being handled in the same way and gnawing on performance.

When the wind suddenly change, with a new demanding boss in charge usually, the amount of corrective actions could sweep tsunami-like onto the staff.

There is where the four words of wisdom come in: start less, finish more.
Way too late though.


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