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 – Why You should NOT use a model

A Goal Tree is a logical structure linking the Goal of the organization to all subordinate Necessary Conditions (NCs) to achieve the Goal. The top most NCs are called Critical Success Factor (CSFs) in order to highlight their importance: they are the last things to achieve in order to achieve the Goal.

These CSFs should remain few, three to five (rule of thumb), as it is not reasonable to have a Goal depending on too many CSFs. If they are too many, chances are some of them are overrated NCs and should return some level deeper into the Tree .

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Yet saying three to five and with Eli Goldratt’s first (universal?) definition of the Goal, many will think about having maximum Throughput (T), minimum Operating Expenses (OE) and minimum Investment (I) as CSFs.

Indeed, they may very likely be found somewhere in the Tree, but are they always CSFs?

Some consultants and/or Theory of Constraints practitioners suggest having a generic skeleton of a Goal Tree ready, with T, OE and I at the top and then fill the underlying NCs with the organization’s related requirements.

I do understand the idea, but do not endorse it.

Why You should NOT use a model

A generic Goal Tree could be a consultant’s tool, not an owner’s nor CEO’s.

A Goal stated in a Goal Tree should not vary much nor frequently over time. Neither should the CSFs and NCs. Bill Dettmer states that a properly built Goal Tree remains valid as long as market conditions do not change significantly and in most businesses, the disruptions do not happen very frequently.

An owner or his/her deputies may build one strategic Goal Tree in a decade. So what is it to the CEO or owner to invest a couple of hours going through the top of the Goal Tree without any preset in regards of the life span of the Goal Tree?

Somebody’s else strategic intent

Besides, starting with a so-called generic tree is starting with somebody else’s tree, thus giving up what makes the organization specific. Does an owner or CEO only want to go for a me-too strategy? If yes, buying a how-to book on Goal Tree building or reading my posts on this blog may suffice to copy-paste what others thought out.

I believe going through the whole process, from Goal Statement to the definition of CSFs and first layers of NCs is a very useful exercise for an owner, a CEO or anybody in charge of achieving the organization’s Goal.

Much have been written about the importance of a properly stated and verbalized Goal. Giving some time to do it and review it with a facilitator and scrutinizer is often a very useful exercise and a good investment.

So is the understanding of the links from Goal to underneath Necessary Conditions. Owners and CEOs or their deputies do not have to build the whole tree, but give high level input. From my point of view, CSFs and first layer of NCs define much of the organization’s soul, culture and how this will go on in future.


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Schragenheim’s concise history of constraints

The definition of a constraint in Theory of Constraints (TOC) has varied as the corpus grew and matured. Still today it is confusing for newbies to sort out what is meant with “constraint”, depending how they got their basics in TOC.

Thanks to Eli Schragenheim, one of TOC’s founding fathers, and the related post on his blog, the reader can understand how and why the definition varied over time.

I strongly recommend to read Eli’s post: A concise history of constraints

What keeps TOC confidential? (and me angry)

It is one of the frustrations for Theory of Constraints (TOC) enthusiasts: why is their beloved business philosophy so barely known?

No other, neither Lean nor Six Sigma had such a visible high-flying banner like “The Goal”, the (probably) first business novel*, sold over 6 million copies so far. If readers have been so many and as it is reported so thrilled by the content, how come only very few people know anything about TOC?

*The Goal is a business novel written by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Goal_(novel)

In this video interview, Nicolas Hennion shares his views, answering Philip Marris’ questions.

The first question about the name “Theory of Constraints” was also discussed with Bill Dettmer, another TOC expert with a pragmatic point of view.

I totally share Nicolas’ frustration about TOC Body of Knowledge being overprotected and monetized.

In my case, I stopped my learning journey in the mid-1990 when Internet was still young and not that populated with available free material as nowadays, Amazon did not exist and buying books from foreign countries (remember I am a Frenchman) was expensive and complicated. I resumed studying TOC and the Thinking Processes developed in between in around 2010, buying carefully chosen second-hand books, still shockingly expensive.

I estimate I’ve lost 10 years in my TOC learning journey, being disappointed about the difficulties and costs to get to the educational material. I turned to Lean instead, and did well.

When the TOC old guard wonders why TOC is still confidential, they should rewind Nicolas’ interview and try to understand the way the younger generations operate; networking, sharing, hacking open source style.

Food for thoughts…


Related: Theory of Constraints is something great, except for its name


 

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You are probably wrong when identifying your bottleneck

Things moved on since Eli Goldratt’s revealed Theory of Constraints through his business novel and bestseller “the Goal”. Most of today’s processes are more complex than 30 years ago: supply chains are stretched over the globe, new products are launched more frequently and batches are changed more often, among others. Thus identifying the bottleneck or capacity constraint is more difficult and must also be redone more often.

In this video, Philip Marris shares some “lessons from the road”, real case lessons learned from more than 30 cases in the last 10 years. Surprisingly, if companies were rather good identifying their bottleneck, it turned out that now, in 80% of cases companies are wrong about where their capacity constraint is.

Main learnings are:

  • companies are often confusing where the constraint should be with where it really is
  • ERP data is not a reliable way to identify constraints
  • companies tend to have an outdated / obsolete analysis of the situation
  • new quality requirements often create new capacity constraints
  • (bad) cost cutting decisions create new bad constraints

As a conclusion, he points out that being wrong about where a company’s constraints are is good news since it implies that there are significant opportunities remaining to improve performance drastically and rapidly.


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6 questions to frame your brilliant development idea

I was fortunate to interview Eli Schragenheim, well-known expert of Theory of Constraints, during his visit in our offices in Paris, October 2015. This interview is about the 6 questions to challenge, question, test or frame any new development of technology, product or service.

These 6 questions are:

  1. What value does it bring?
  2. What current limitation does it eliminate or reduce?
  3. What do people do now, without your development?
  4. What should users do in order to draw full value of your development?
  5. What features must be included?
  6. How do you integrate?

The 6 questions originated with the book “Necessary but not sufficient”, co-authored by Eli Goldratt, Eli Schragenheim and Carol Ptak, published in 2000. The 6 questions are still really actual as startups are hype.

During this interview, I made a link with the Lean Startup movement, the Minimum Viable Product concept.


Eli Schragenheim posted a series of articles based on these s 6 questions on his own blog.


Read more about how Theory of Constraints can help Startups


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Eli Schragenheim on How can Theory of Constraints help Startups?

Startups are hype. I started asking myself how long known methodologies or management philosophies like Lean or Theory of Constraints can possibly help starting companies?

When Eli Schragenheim visited our offices in Paris, France, in October 2015, I fetched the opportunity to ask him this question: How can Theory of Constraints help Startups?

In this video, Eli shares his views.

Recorded in Paris, France, October 2015 in the offices of Marris Consulting.


>More of this series


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The origins of Logical Thinking Process

The Logical Thinking Process is the name of a book from Bill Dettmer as well as the name of a complex problem solving process inspired by Goldratt’s Thinking Processes. Over time, while teaching the original Thinking Processes, Bill realized it can also  be used for strategy deployment, not only complex problem solving. In this video interview, Bill Dettmer tells Philip Marris about the origins of the whole.


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7 good reasons to attend the Logical Thinking Process training

The Logical Thinking Process Training Course is delivered by Bill Dettmer, a recognized expert within the community of Theory of Constraints (ToC). Bill has worked with Eli Goldratt and other prominent ToC community members.

Here are 7 good reasons to attend the Logical Thinking Process training

1. Meet Bill Dettmer

The first benefit of this training is to meet, listen, learn and benefit from personalized advice from Bill Dettmer. Bill is a recognized expert within the community of Theory of Constraints, author of eight books and numerous articles, “father” of this wonderful tool called the Goal Tree.
Bill is also an excellent teacher and extraordinary storyteller, often illustrating the educational contributions with hilarious anecdotes.

2. A pragmatic approach

The Logical Thinking Process and supporting tools demand users’ rigor and use a scientific approach to solve problems. The underlying logic suffers no deviation, but that is nearly all about being directive.
The proposed overall approach remains pragmatic, graphic outlines and color codes for example are suggested, not mandatory. Even the use of all the tools is not mandatory, their choice should fit the purpose of the users, as long as the logical relationships that structure them are kept as they should be.
It is really the way of thinking and the results that matter, not the look of the outcomes.

3. Work on the ambitions and / or actual problems

The training alternates between theory and practice and it is not based on case studies, but on real problems that participants are encouraged to bring with them. Conversely, having a (complex) problem to solve is a prerequisite to attend the training.
Note: it can be the rollout of a strategy, hence the mentioned “ambition”
A real benefit for participants is to get personalized advice from Bill as he will scrutinize and correct each of the real-case exercises.

4. Benefit from the group effect

Participants are actors and spectators, presenters and scrutinizers in turn. Everyone therefore benefits from the collective experience as well as from the sum of individual experiences during the practical exercises.

5. A dense training course of a suitable format

Training is dense, former trainees testify of this intense experience going through concepts and tools, exercises and practice in brisk pace. However, the format chosen – two times three days separated by a weekend – is adapted and validated by the experience of all the sessions led by Bill worldwide.
Greater dilution impairs learning and the six days spread over two weeks minimize the effects of the absence of the participants in their organizations.

6. The certificate of mastery

Bill issues a certificate of mastery in his name, a credential that the holder has acquired the sufficient mastery of the principles and tools to use them properly, according to Bill’s criteria. The awarding of this certificate is nothing complacent as Bill explains; by signing his name he engages his own reputation and will not certify insufficiently qualified persons with his endorsement.

7. Network with the alumni

Participants of a training session will have plenty of occasions to know each other better: lunch, diners, even a common tour in Paris on the weekend. After the training course, participants will be invited to get in touch, meet and network with the alumni, expanding the community of the Logical Thinking Process.

More information about the training course and registration on the LTP training dedicated webpage.

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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