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.
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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