Management attention as a constraint – Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I introduced management attention as a constraint. This second post goes on with more reasons why management fail to pay the necessary attention to the factor limiting the whole system’s performance.

Unaware or wrong about the constraint

Management attention might be on the wrong things because manager are unaware of or are wrong about the system’s constraint.

Spotting the real constraint of a system can be tricky, see my series of posts about this topic: How to identify the constraint of a system?

Not able to identify the constraint

Many managers are unaware about the system’s constraint, in other words: what really limits the system performance. Despite the number of people pretending to have basic understanding of Theory of Constraints, few really have enough understanding to spot the real constraint and to manage it as it should. Instead, many of them are still stuck in older paradigms, seeking the maximum output at every process step and trying to minimize unit costs.

True Theory of Constraints-aware people know that this approach is bound to fail as the global optimum cannot be the sum of local optima. Local objectives will simply compete against each other at the expense of the overall performance.

Unaware of the true limiting factor, management simply cannot focus on what matters.

Identifying the wrong constraint

It is common to mismatch bottlenecks and constraints and also common to wrongly identify a resource or a process as a constraint when it is not. When management identifies the wrong constraint, its attention is focused on the wrong spot and the decisions made won’t help the overall performance.

From a Theory of Constraints perspective, management attention is therefore a constraint itself because it does not focus on the right spot, the real constraint.

Lack of focus

As we have seen in part 1 of this series, lack of focus can come from lack of clarity about the Goal, lax attitude or mismatching the constraint. It can also come from lack of self-discipline or a personal difficulty to keep focused on something for a longer period of time.

Another possible cause is the overwhelming number of things managers must take care of. Their attention is required by so many things that they will task switch (notice I didn’t write multitask), losing their focus to a new problem as soon as it pops up.

Manager’s time is a scarce resource so it must be used wisely. Therefore, managers themselves must know what to focus on and, maybe more important is to understand what’s NOT to spend time on.

Especially in an industrial environment opportunities for improvement are literally endless. It’s very easy to start project on something that looks good and promising but doesn’t benefit the system as a whole.

Therefore it’s very important for management to refrain giving attention to everything and discriminate what will benefit the system and what is just a local improvement.

From a Theory of Constraints perspective, If making more goal-units (often money) is your goal, throughput is your obsession. And if throughput is your obsession, you’ll have literally to sit on the constraint and make the most out of it. Keep focused!

Not enough feedback

Senior management and middle management may be well aware about the organization’s Goal and the system constraint, but do not pay enough attention to give feedback to the teams lower in the organisation. Without clear guidance, those teams can go astray without even noticing, burning up precious and scarce resources working on the wrong subjects. This is a variant of lack of management’s direction and lack of management focus, described in part 1 of this series.

Lack of management support

Subordinates may be willing to work on the right thing but for some reason need management support they can’t get. Management then turns out to be the blocking point, thus the constraint.

There are some legit cases for which subordinates cannot act without management support, but if subordinates are too dependent upon management, there is something wrong.

Many organizations don’t use the principle of subsidiarity, which means delegating action to the lowest possible level. Some managers love to be asked over and over for help and support, but keeping subordinates in this dependency is not a good investment for the future. The flattered managers, making themselves indispensable, are in reality trapped as they have to continuously backup their teams.

Managers should develop their teams to be more autonomous so that they can focus on manager’s tasks, like taking care of the system’s constraint and not turn themselves into one!

Lack of management commitment

Some managers do not buy-in the objectives, the strategy or the organization’s Goal. This may be the case after a merger and acquisition, when a new vision is set by the acquirer, for example. Those managers stay with the new structure to collect their paycheck but pay only lip service to the job to be done. Lack of commitment creates lack of focus and probably a lax attitude.

I’ve met such kind of middle managers in charge of a critical process or constrained resources that didn’t give a dime managing it properly, even after in-depth explanation of its importance for the whole organization. Needless to say that their future wasn’t as comfortable as their past from this point.

Distracted managers

Managers may be attracted (distracted would be more appropriate) by some project or endeavour they like but without connection to the system performance as a whole. Especially nowadays with the hype of the concepts like factory of the future, the industrial internet and the like, it’s very easy to get allured by some new technology and behave like a big child in front of brand new toys.

While dreaming about their new “toys”, the distracted managers don’t take care about the actual critical resources that limit the system throughput.


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About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

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Management attention as a constraint – Part 1

A system’s constraint, the limiting factor that is an obstacle to getting more Goal units* from the system, can be pretty difficult to identify (hence the success of my post on the topic: How to identify a constraint?!).

*”Goal units” can be money, profit, services to citizens, number of patients treated, free meals served, or whatever the organization delivers to achieve its Goal.

The Theory of Constraints community discusses the management attention as a constraint for a long time now and Goldratt himself called management attention the ultimate constraint (the one remaining when all others have been elevated). My own experience convinced me that management attention can indeed be a constraint for the whole system, from the beginning.

Misaligned organization

Striving to achieve the organization’s Goal is management’s sacred mission and it is management’s duty to align the efforts of their subordinates to achieve that objective. Lean Management uses the “True North” metaphor and Hoshin Kanri or Policy Deployment to achieve it. The Logical Thinking Process calls it the Goal and have the Goal Tree as a roadmap and benchmark. Both approaches and their tool sets can be combined.

Now too often management does not clearly communicate about the Goal neither ensure their staff’s energy and initiatives are well oriented towards achieving the Goal.

Surprisingly, some senior managers are not clear among themselves what the organization’s Goal is. Bill Dettmer published a paper on such an experience with a crowd of executives and almost as many Goals as people! The paper is downloadable at http://www.goalsys.com/books/documents/WhatisOurGoal-v5_000.pdf

Management’s attention is on something else, but not on the main objective.

When this happens, scarce resources are often wasted for meaningless purposes, on the wrong things. The longer this goes on, the stronger the evidence that management attention isn’t focused, for whatever reasons, on what really matters.

Chances are that middle managers lacking a clear stated and often reminded Goal define their own objectives for the need of guidance.

Self defined objectives

When subordinates define their own objectives because they have no “True North” to align their own and/or their staff’s work, they may define these objectives to fit their own purpose, their own views or to optimize their department’s performance. Doing so, the probability is high that the self defined objectives will be in conflict with another department’s objectives and at the expenses of the overall organization performance.

Myths and false assumptions

Lack of clear communication about the Goal and lax management may let myths and false assumptions flourish. Most often, myths and false assumptions are the result of lack of clarity, misunderstanding or overinterpretation of some “strategic intent” or senior management statements.

Management attention must foremost be on clarity of purpose, second on the alignment of all actions towards achieving the Goal. With constant attention and frequent repetition about the Goal and checking the progress towards it, deviations as well as false assumptions and misunderstandings can be detected and corrected.

Lax management

Many people have been promoted to management positions even so they lacked the necessary soft skills. Some because it was a reward for past dedication and good job, others because they were technically good and the assumption was they would also be good at managing others. The latter often does not happen.

Unfit for their position, uneasy especially when taking command over former colleagues, lacking the charisma and know-how, many hide themselves behind computers screens or in meetings and shun contact with their subordinates. Management attention is purposely not on what matters because of a form of cowardice, or to put it softer, because of uneasiness.

In order to keep social peace, middle management (at least in France) often tries to avoid frontal assault against deviant behaviors, absenteeism, poor performance and sub-standard achievement.

The situation is often paradoxical between the pressure from above to achieve the objectives and at the same time the strong recommendation not to mess up with work force to avoid social unrest, that middle management is torn between conflicting objectives.

This probably led to management positions popularity to sink to an abyssal low. The younger generations don’t want management jobs anymore.

Additionally, the new generations and their ways of teaming up, networking and work around obstacles. They have no interest in traditional management. They don’t want that kind of job and do not pay the same respect to rank like previous generations did. For them and growing part of the workforce, leadership is more important than status.

All this lead many middle managers to compromise and get lax in their management or give it up for good. Management positions are now harder to man as this kind of job lost much consideration.

Therefore, even if those managers know well about the Goal they should work to achieve, their ability or personal lax attitude does not transmit the necessary energy or inputs to their teams.

Next: Management attention as a constraint – Part 2

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

About the author, Chris HOHMANN

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Goal Tree Chronicles – Coloring the Goal Tree

The 3-colors system is a well accepted assessment and visual management tool by Goal Tree builders and users. The principle is simple as it uses the traditional Red-Amber-Green color code to indicate the status of each entity in the Tree.

In a Goal Tree, Necessary Conditions are enablers to the above entity. As soon as enablers are not in place or “unstable”, the outcome they should enable cannot be considered as in place, delivering or achieved.

In this post, I detail how to color a Goal Tree.

How to color a Goal Tree?

Start at the bottom, with the very basic Necessary Conditions. Have the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) assess each Necessary Condition for its status. As soon as a basic Necessary Condition, which is a requirement or prerequisite to the above entity to exist, is Amber or Red, the above entity can only be Amber or Red. The color, symbol for the status, propagates upwards like in a line of dominos when the falling one pushes the next.

Goal Tree

Reminder: in “my” 3 color system, green stands for granted, constantly available, steady… Amber means unstable, not totally fulfilled, variable… Red means missing, non-existent, not at nominal value, etc.

Therefore, the assessment can be quite quick. The SMEs should know what’s going on on shopfloor, how process behave and deliver. Key Performance Indicators (KPI) may give additional information.

In a starting project, chances are that many identified basic requirements are not yet fulfilled, so their boxes in the Goal Tree are red. As soon as such an entity turns Amber or Red, no need to assess the above related entities, they are Amber or Red by definition.

Related: Goal Tree: How green is your tree?

The requirements that are Green need to be followed upwards nevertheless to see if their above related entities are Green as well, or if an additional Necessary Condition coming in sideways has a non-Green status. If this is the case, the above entity takes the color of the worst of the underlying Necessary Conditions’ color.

The limits of the 3-color system

It can happen that despite an entity having all its underlying Necessary Conditions set to Green can’t be assessed as Green. Facts and figures just don’t allow it. How come?

Well, remember: underlying Necessary Conditions are enablers, not triggers. Unlikely what happens with sufficiency logic where a cause is literally sufficient to produce the effect, the necessity logic used in the Goal Tree states that if a Necessary Condition is missing, the expected effect can not happen, but conversely, the underlying Necessary Condition existence is only enabling the effect to happen.

Entities in a Goal Tree are also called Intermediate Objectives and in order to achieve an objective, 3 conditions are required: having the necessary means to achieve the objective, knowing how to achieve it and being motivated to achieve it.

Related: What it takes to achieve your objective: Means, Method and Motivation

In case a should-be green Intermediate Objectives isn’t green, you should check the Means, Method and Motivation.


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About the author, Chris HOHMANN

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