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

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 – Enablers vs.triggers

In this post I explain the difference between enablers and triggers in logic trees, which basically is explaining how Necessity logic differs from Sufficiency logic. I then explain the basic assumption when building a Goal Tree and why the Goal will not automatically be achieved even if a most of Necessary Conditions are fulfilled.

Necessity vs. sufficiency

Necessity-based logic requires a prerequisite to be fulfilled in order to produce the expected effect. This is why necessity-based logic uses “in order to… [effect] we must … [prerequisite]” wording in the Logical Thinking Process.

Example: in order to have my hair cut, I must go to the hairdresser.

Even so there are alternatives to the hairdresser to have the hair cut, a prerequisite is necessary for the hair being cut.

Sufficiency, as its name suggests, does only require the cause to exist for the effect to automatically exist. The corresponding wording is ”if…[cause] then.. [effect].”

Example: if it rains, then the lawn gets wet. Or if I drop an ice-cube in hot water (the) it melts. In these examples there is little that can be done to prevent the effect to automatically happen when the cause happens.

Enablers vs.triggers

I assume dear readers, you understand the huge difference between Necessity and Sufficiency. While an effect will automatically happen if the cause exists in the case of sufficiency, the existence of the prerequisite (cause) in necessity-based logic is not enough to produce the effect, it only enables it.

For example, many prerequisites are necessary to build a house, like having a ground, having timber, having a permit, and so on. But having all prerequisite will not lead the house to build itself.

In sufficiency logic, the cause is the trigger while with necessity logic, the cause is “only” an enabler.

The Goal Tree is built on necessity-logic

The Goal Tree, one of my favorite logic tools, is built on layers of Necessary Conditions, linked from the Goal on the top to the very first Necessary Conditions at the bottom by necessity-logic. The convenient way to build a Goal Tree and scrutinize it is to check the sound logical relationship between an entity and the underlying Necessary Condition using the “in order to… [effect] we must … [prerequisite]” phrasing.

The logic trees and cloud from the Logical Thinking Process are either necessity-based or sufficiency-based and in the order of their sequential usage they alternate between necessity and sufficiency.

Now because the Goal Tree is built on necessity logic, the entities composing it are absolutely necessary to exist or being granted for to achieve the Goal. By definition, if one Necessary Condition is not fulfilled, the Goal cannot be achieved.

But, as Necessary Conditions are “only” enablers, nothing will happen as long as no real action is taken.

Achieving the Goal

Achieving the Goal requires all Necessary Conditions or enabling prerequisites to be fulfilled, but it is not sufficient.

This can be disturbing for those being exposed first time to the Goal Tree, because there is an implicit assumption that when the enablers are in place, the necessary actions or decisions will be taken, so that from bottom to top, all Necessary Conditions are fulfilled and the Goal eventually achieved.

Promoters, including me, tend to cut corners and advertise about the lower level Necessary Conditions “automatically” turn the upper ones to be fulfilled, and the achievement of intermediate objectives to happen like a row of dominoes propagating the fall of the first one till the very last: the system’s goal.

This is true if people in charge do their part: take the decisions and/or carry out the tasks.

This is why, “surprisingly”, some entities can be Amber or Red (condition not always / not fulfilled) even so their underlying Necessary Conditions are Green (condition always fulfilled).

If you are not yet familiar with my 3-color system, I suggest you read: 3-color system for Goal Trees


Here is such an example. It comes from an operational Goal Tree built to enumerate all Necessary Conditions to pass over simple maintenance tasks from maintenance technicians to line operators. The simple tasks include daily lubrication and check of tightenings in order to prevent wear and possible breakdowns. The aim is to implement the Total Productive Maintenance ‘Autonomous Maintenance‘ pillar.

Once all Necessary Conditions are listed, the Goal Tree is scrutinized for robustness and if ok, it becomes the benchmark to achieve the Goal. The next step is to assess each Necessary Conditions for its status.

We see in the figure above (showing only a tiny part of the Goal Tree) that all underlying Necessary Conditions to “Daily lubrication / tightening is done” are Green, but the expected outcome, the effect is Amber. Since every prerequisite is Green, we expect the effect to be Green as well. Amber means the outcome is not stable, not always guaranteed, not steadily at nominal level.

It means this expected outcome, the task “daily lubrication / tightening is done”  is NOT done EVERY day.

One may argue that we cannot see any mention of the lubrication / tightening being part of operators’ duties. That’s correct. The reason for this is that in logic trees, obvious prerequisites or assumptions are voluntarily omitted for the sake of keeping the logic trees simple and legible. In our case, the work instructions include the daily lubrication and tightening routine. This is a known fact for everyone concerned with this Goal Tree.

In other words, enablers are ok, but the trigger is still missing.

It is now up to management to:

  • make sure operators have a full understanding of the work instructions,
  • make sure these tasks are carried out and
  • clarify what is to be done if operators face a dilemma like catch up late work or go as planned for maintenance routine.

Fortunately those cases are the exception. People truly involved in a project and having a clear understanding of the purpose will contribute. That is, as long as they are not exposed to undesirable effects, from their point of view.

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Industry 4.0 promoter’s flaw of logic and Categories of Legitimate Reservation

Promoters of any solution or change agents of are usually in love with the object of their promotion. Love is said to be blind and oblivious of any negative aspect of the loved thing. That is why so often promoters of change highlight all the benefits of the change, regardless of any Undesirable side Effects for the people they try to convince to change. They usually also complain about resistance to change when skeptic listeners do not show enthusiasm for the promoted brilliant solution.

But promoters may also forget to adapt their communication to the targeted audience. They may know well their subject and cut corners, leaving the audience with doubts and questions about a logic they can’t completely follow.

In this post I will address:

For that I pick two sentences from an Industry 4.0 promoter’s blog post which does not seem logically sound.

The statement

“Brave companies who adopt new approaches (e.i. Industry 4.0) and adapt how they manufacture and run their businesses will be rewarded with success. While those who drag their feet and avoid risk will get left behind.”

There is no further explanation in the blog to backup these two sentences.

The first sentence, rephrased in logical cause-and-relationship reads: “if companies adopt new approaches (e.i. Industry 4.0) AND if companies adapt how they manufacture and run their businesses THEN companies will be rewarded by success.”

The AND here suggest that the two conditions must be fulfilled simultaneously in order to cause the success.

Necessity-based logic versus sufficiency-based logic

The statement is made with sufficiency-based logic, because it suggest that the adoption of new approaches and adaptation are sufficient to cause the companies to be successful.

Sufficiency is base on “if…then” or cause-and-effect relationship.

If the article was about listing all the conditions necessary to make the companies successful, it would have been necessity-based logic. In this case the relationship would have been: “in order to… the companies must…”.

The logical structure that Logical Thinking Process aware people “see” in the statement is either a Communication Current Reality Tree or a Future Reality Tree.

To learn more about necessity-based logic versus sufficiency-based logic, check my post: Goal Tree Chronicles – Enablers vs.triggers


1 – Clarity

The first reservation about this statement is a clarity reservation about the meaning of “success”. What is “success”? How can we measure it? How can we know whether the company is “successful” or not?

Unfortunately there is no way to ask the author for clarification. One could understand that deployment of industry 4.0 technologie(s) together with adaptation of the work procedures is a success. A project manager in charge of such a program would surely agree about this definition of success.

The CEO and the board are probably looking for more than having the latest technologies installed, even it probably helps the image of the company to have a nice techno-showcase. In their view, success is more likely increase of sales, profit and market share. Let’s assume this one is meant by “success”.

We could go on and challenge the meaning of “new approaches”, “industry 4.0” or even what is exactly meant by “how they manufacture”. In case someone really need clarification, the question could be raised, otherwise let’s not go for unnecessary wordsmithing.

2 – Entity existence

An entity in the Logical Thinking Process parlance is a statement that conveys an idea. An entity is also the logical box holding the statement in the various logic trees.

An entity must only convey a single idea, therefore when building a logic tree on this statement we must have 3 entities combining their effects to produce one outcome: the success of the companies (read figure from bottom to top).

3 – Causality existence

Causality existence is checking the existence of the causal connection between entities.

“if companies adopt Industry 4.0 AND if companies adapt how they manufacture AND if companies adapt how they run their businesses THEN companies will be rewarded by success.”

Does it exist? One example would be enough to demonstrate it exists, but, in absence of hard evidence, the likeliness of the causality existence must be evaluated. We assume it’s ok.

4 – Cause sufficiency

Are the 3 proposed causes sufficient alone to produce the effect “successful companies”? I would intuitively say no. There is a lot more necessary. We are here facing a typical “long arrow” which is a leap of logic from some causes directly to the outcome, ignoring intermediate steps and conditions in between.

This is typical when people discuss matters they know well because they don’t have to detail everything, they know what is missing and is implicit. But here it is about promoting something which is quite new (in 2017), relatively complicated and not very well known by laymen. Effort should be paid to elaborate on the message in order to favor buy-in.

5 – Additional cause

This check is looking for other causes that can independently produce the same effect. There are indeed other ways for companies to be successful than going for industry 4.0, but the statement suggests there is only one, as it warns: “those who drag their feet and avoid risk will get left behind.”


With these two last reservations we uncover the major flaw in the statement:

  • The proposed “logic” is not likely to be enough to produce the expected effect
  • There are other ways to be successful

From the audience point of view, the argumentation is weak. This is more likely to raise suspicion about the promoter’s expertise and trustworthiness, thus distrust and reservation than frantic enthusiasm about the proposed idea.

Such a weak argumentation can have devastating effects, making decision makers to turn their backs, refusing a good plan or a clever strategy which was ill-prepared and badly presented.

The Categories of Legitimate Reservation are 8 formal “rules” or “tests” used to check the logical soundness of a reasoning or an argumentation. They are part of the Logical Thinking Process corpus.

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Scrutinizing and improving a Current Reality Tree (video tutorial)

In this video, I scrutinize and suggest improvements on a Current Reality Tree (CRT) found on the Internet. A logically sound CRT is key to convince audience about the robustness of the analysis and the reality of the causes to the trouble. If there is room for doubt or the logical has flaws, chances are that the audience will not buy-in, especially those having some “skin in the game”…

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Beware of the Logical Thinking Process apparent simplicity

It happens often with methods and tools that look simple: people giving it a try think they master the subject when in reality they more or less failed with their trial. It is not different with the Logical Thinking Process.

The Current Reality Tree is maybe one of the logic trees the most attractive to rookies. The classic Theory of Constraints’ Thinking Processes as well as Bill Dettmer’s Logical Thinking Process propose a structured and step-by-step approach to go from gathering “undesirable effects” or UDEs to revealing the root causes via a Current Reality Tree (CRT).

Even so the two approaches have slight differences, they follow the same construction and analysis pattern and both the stress the need to build the CRT with the mandatory logical soundness. Therefore there are rules to follow as well as a check process called the Categories of Legitimate Reservations (CLR).

Alas, what most people recall is that the Current Reality Tree is built by connecting UDEs with cause-and-effect sufficiency logic relations using a simple if…then… verbalization. Then, look at the bottom of the tree and somewhere there lies the mother cause of all evil. Kill this root cause and the whole tree of negative consequences will collapse. Tada, job done.

The apparent simplicity of building a CRT and some overconfidence, mixed with the laziness to go through thorough checking ends up with disappointing trees which are not logically robust.

Besides the risk of failing to find the right causes to problems and consequently proposing inappropriate solutions, the analysts may be taken by surprise by someone listening to their brilliant demonstration and pointing out flaws of logic. Embarrassing.

This can be devastating, because even if the analysis is ultimately leading to the real core problems, the doubts raised during a flawed presentation may end up in disbelief or rejection of the conclusions.

As Bill Dettmer warns in his personal style at the end of his 6-day intensive Logical Thinking Process Training Course, “You are now armed and dangerous”. In essence he gave the participants potent weapons, but their lack of practice may lead them to shoot themselves in the leg.

Well, considering my own scars, I can only agree.

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What advice to people wanting to experience the Logical Thinking Process Training Course?

Paris June 28th, 2017. The 6-day Logical Thinking Process Training Course with Bill Dettmer is just over. We asked the participants not in a hurry to rush to an airport or train station if they would share their thoughts about the course in front of a camcorder?

Cédric, Sverre and Leo were so kind. Bill asked them about their favorite takeaways and advices for people willing to take the course.

As a veteran with 5 attendances (being part of the organizing party) I delivered my testimony long ago, however, I reflected on what I would say now.

My favorite part of the course changed over the sessions, which is understandable with all that repeat. Now my favorite part is working hands-on on trees, cross presenting them and have them scrutinized. That’s the closest we can get in a room session while working on somebody’s real-world case.

This brings me to my advice: come prepared (read the pre-course reading material) and have a real-world problem to work on. The best is a problem with which the participant has enough inside knowledge and enough influence – if not power – to make change happen.

What happens during the course?

This last June 2017 session was in my opinion a good one because the cases were mostly about founding a new business, spinning-off from actual one, or trying to reinvigorate an existing fading one.

With entrepreneur spirit and most of the options open, the Goal Tree was piece of cake. Well it seemed to be piece of cake. Once in front of a large empty sheet of brown paper and a demanding mentor in the back, the candidate entrepreneurs had to turn their brilliant idea in a compelling and robust Goal Tree.

The Current Reality Tree (CRT) brought most of them back into their unsatisfactory actual state, but at least with clear understanding of what causes the Undesirable Effects (UDEs). Conflicting objectives or decisions were uncovered and creativity called in to dissolve the conflicts.

Logical Thinking Process / Theory of Constraints’ Thinking Processes aware readers recognize the Evaporating Cloud (EC) to do that.

On the group went, injecting solutions into their current reality in order to turn the UDEs into Desirable Effects (DEs). This was done thanks to the Future Reality Tree (FRT), a kind of logical (and virtual) proof of concept to test the solutions.

Bill instructed the group to look for possible Negative Branches that may grow out of a seemingly brilliant idea and end up in a new and unexpected UDE. When such a branch is spotted, the trainee can be happy to have tested the solution on paper before messing up in real world! Luckily there are ways to trim such unwanted negative branches and it’s part of the training.

The final exercise is to list the possible obstacles to implementation and overcome them with a Prerequisite Tree.

Five trees per attendant gives a lot to review and scrutinize! And just as many learning opportunities!

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Goal Tree Chronicles: can I have more than one goal?

I started publishing on the Internet in 1998 with the available means at that time. My undertaking had several purposes and expected benefits, but it was all intuition and nothing thoroughly planned.

Years after, knowing the Goal Tree and being fan of the Logical Thinking Process, reflecting about my author debut, I wondered if a Goal Tree can have more than one goal.

Choosing the easiest way I asked my mentor and friend Bill Dettmer instead of giving it a personal thought.

His response, wise as usual, was: “Multi-tasking doesn’t work. It dilutes focus and effort (../..) If you have what appear to be multiple goals, what you more likely have are Critical Success Factors to a higher, as-yet-undefined single goal. If you find such a situation, pose the question, “What higher level SINGLE outcome are all these multiples there to achieve?” That inevitably gets people thinking of one goal.”

I found myself a bit stupid. Would I have invested some minutes, I could have come to this obvious conclusion myself.

Yet I got a bonus. Bill continued his explanation with a Tour de France (our famous bicycle race) metaphor: “I liken the goal to the finish line of a race. There are never multiple finish lines.”

Full stop.

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Why is the Logical Thinking Process so hard to sell?

This is probably the greatest frustration for Logical Thinking Process (LTP) fans: why don’t more people get interested in? Why is the Logical Thinking Process so hard to sell?

Please understand “sell” with the quotation marks, I mean promote, advertise, grow the community, attract participants to seminars and courses altogether.

This post is a reflection of mine and an invitation to other LTP savvy and practitioners to share (please use comments) their analysis and thoughts.

The first reason is the weird sounding proposal to learn how to think. I got this reply of course.

Most people are convinced they are able to thinking in a logical way and don’t see the point learning anything about it. Those knowledgeable about the Logical Thinking Process changed their minds acknowledging they believed they were thinking logically until they went through the humbling experience of the LTP.

Make a clear statement that is both rationally sound and without any ambiguity is one example of the “thinking qualities” so many believe to master naturally but don’t.

Guiding an audience through a chain of causes-and-effects with rock-solid logic and in a crystal clear way is another “gift” commonly thought innate.

From what I’ve seen, everybody going through a Logical Thinking Process training course gets a lesson, regardless of how brilliant a speaker the person already was.

The second reason is maybe the jargon. Theory of Constraints (ToC) is full of jargon, metaphors and poetic names that do not help getting into it without a true motivation.

Other business philosophies and methodologies have their own lingo. Lean for instance “requires” to accept Japanese words without being a serious obstacle for its spreading.

The difference I see between Lean’s Japanese words and ToC jargon is that Japanese words are accepted because most people understand them through their translation / transliteration only. To them, those words have no other meanings that can be misleading.

In the Logical Thinking Process, “Evaporating Cloud” most people (with sufficient command in English of course) try to understand the literal sense in the context but can’t.

The Evaporating Cloud makes sense once the metaphor is decoded. It would have been so much easier to call it a Conflict Resolution Diagram (a proposed and sometimes used alternate name), which it really is, first hand.

Explanation about the sticking to the Evaporating Cloud can be read in Lisa Scheinkopf’s book “Thinking for a Change: Putting the TOC Thinking Processes to Use

Besides poetry and metaphors, acronyms are just as numerous. Take “POOGI” that stands for Process Of OnGoing Improvement in ToC’s lingo. The already popular “Continuous Improvement” was obviously not good enough and led to craft a weird-sounding new acronym, requiring more explanations and learning.

Even some ToC and/or Logical Thinking Process aficionados don’t like all the jargon, it is now the language of the ToC community and its mastery the price to pay for any new comer.

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Yeah, problem solving

Most people love to solve problems and feel the satisfaction of getting rid of some nasty tricky problem. It’s an outdated but still lasting belief that management is about problem solving. Problem solving turned in some cases into the managers’ and engineers’ holly mission and in some minds, the more problems the manager/engineer solves, the better manager/engineer he/she is. This kind of problem solving can be addictive, hence the Arsonist Fireman Syndrome.

On the other hand, thanks to Lean Management, enlightened managers understand it is crucial to refrain from solving problems and develop their subordinates’ ability to solve problems themselves instead.

Note that all the above is about problem solving, not problem avoidance or problem prevention. And if today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions, as stated in Peter Senge’s “The 11 Laws of the Fifth Discipline”, in a world requiring increasingly fast decisions (read solutions), we’ll never run out of new problems to solve.

So what’s wrong with problem solving?

There are at least 2 major issues with actual problem solving practices.

1. Quick fixes

Solutions to problems are most often quick fixes made of the first “best” idea that popped up. Problem solving is not very often a robust and standardized process, systematically rolled out. In fact formal problem solving processes seldom exist even if everybody is claiming solving problems.

If known, simple structured approaches like PDCA are disregarded and ignored, pretending the situation requires quick reaction and not “unnecessary paperwork!”

Often, the problem seem to be fixed, giving credit to the firefighters and reinforcing their belief in their “way” of handling.

It is not really surprising that the same problem keeps showing up as the fixes did not eradicate the problem’s root cause, and the problem itself was never really studied, hence understood.

2. No risk assessment / risk mitigation

If formal and structured processes to tackle problems are seldom, the solutions’ risk assessment is even more seldom. And if the rush to quick fixes leaves no time for properly analyzing the possible problem root causes, no need to mention non-existing attempts to figure out the possible risks these quick fixes bring with them.

Chances are that the ill-prepared and hastily put in place solutions generate unexpected Undesirable Effects. What may fix one problem may well cause one or several others to appear.

That’s how quick and dirty troubleshooting usually come at the expense of later longer efforts to cope with a situation that possibly grew worse, and how Peter Senge’s quote: “Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions” makes the most sense.

What solutions?

  • Choose yourself a structured problem solving approach, there are several available. Try it and if proven suitable for your purpose make it your standard way of approaching a problem.
  • Make sure the implemented solutions will really kill the problem by measuring on a long time horizon if the trouble has disappeared for good. The Quality Operating System is perfect for that.
  • Explore the Logical Thinking Process, the sole complex problem solving methodology I know which includes a systematic “Negative Branch” check to avoid or mitigate Undesirable Effects as by-products of the implemented solution.

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