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

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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.

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How to identify the constraint of a system? Part 5

This is part 5 of a series of posts about identifying the constraint of a system and time for wrapping up and a conclusion (of the series, not the topic!).

Newcomers to Theory of Constraints understand quite easily the concept of bottleneck but are frequently puzzled when looking for them in a real-life process. Furthermore, people have usually difficulties to distinguish bottlenecks or Capacity Constraint Resources from the system’s constraint. As only the latter controls the Throughput of the whole system, meaning it does control the system’s profitability, constraint hunters should better not mismatch the focusing point.

Through the examples in the previous posts, readers can understand that there is no such a thing like a simple trick, neither ready procedure to find the constraint, but a necessary and sometimes painstaking investigation process.

If you missed previous posts, you may check:

Some constraints can really be well hidden and remain elusive, leading analysts to be wrong when identifying it. Because of the growing number of standard and regulatory requirements, the constraint is more and more often found in the paperwork process, in quality assurance or information flow. And this is the wrong place for the constraint to be.

How to be sure the constraint is found?

With so many opportunities to mismatch the constraint, how can one be sure about having found the constraint? Well, by definition the constraint controls Throughput. Elevating the constraint is like opening a valve, the flow through the constraint increases. And as, also by definition, all other resources have excess capacity compared to the constraint, the flow should soon reach the process’ output. This enables the organization to ship more, to ship on time, take more orders and shorten time-to-cash.

For non-profit organizations, the Throughput is expressed in “Goal units”, meaning achieve more of what the organization exists for, like treating more patients for a medical center, providing more food to the homeless, etc.

Now this is quickly noticeable if the downstream process steps are waiting for supplies from the constraint, otherwise the flow from the constraint may take longer to reach the process’ end.

Be aware of the S curve and Valley of despair

As with many improvement initiative, the result may be delayed to a point that some stakeholders come to the conclusion it doesn’t work. Before getting trapped in this pitfall, the project manager or the leader should be aware of the frustration with the S curve.
When dealing with bigger projects rather than improvement activities, it’s not only the S curve the project manager and the sponsors should worry about, but also the “Valley of despair”. This valley is a low in morale following the excitement and expectations about the benefits that the new project will bring. The drop in morale comes when issues and bugs let the new solution appear worse than the old. The challenge for the leader is to get everyone as quick as possible through the valley of despair, accommodate the new way or system and eventually recognize the benefits.

Keep on alert once the constraint is found!

Now once the constraint is properly identified and the efforts to exploit and elevate it begin, the leaders should immediately take care of the consequences of releasing more “goal units” through the constraint.

  • First because the constraint will most probably move to another spot and again this can be anywhere in the process.
  • Second because upstream as well as downstream process steps may be taken by surprise. Upstreams by an increase of demand in order to supply and exploit the increased capacity. Downstream by the flushing of the work in progress that may propagate a significant wave of workload.
  • Third because management must anticipate any necessary action to sustain the flow at the new level, otherwise the success will only be sporadic and ultimately disappointing.

I recommend reading two other posts related to these warnings:

Conclusion

The search for the system’s constraint can be very simple and straightforward, but most often it is tricky and leads to identify wrongly some resources as culprits. It is no rocket science but needs investigation skills and rigor. Experience helps a lot and the good news is that taking care of constraints is never-ending, so experience may accumulate fast.

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How to identify the constraint of a system? Part 4

Since the publishing of early books on Theory of Constraints, the world grew more complex and the system’s constraint got more and more elusive. Globalization and extended supply chains give a constraint opportunity to settle literally anywhere in the world and extend its nature. It can be a physical transformation process in a supplier’s facility, it can be the way cargo is shipped from distant suppliers to the company, it can be the custom clearance process somewhere along the supply chain.

Walking a factory door to door may not suffice anymore to find the system’s constraint. The examples given in the part 1, 2 and 3 of this series of posts are simplified with regard to the reality of most companies.

Another complexity is brought by the growing number of requirements of standards and regulations. A company wanting to count among the aeronautical industry makers has to comply to the AS 9100 (USA) / EN 9100 (Europe) / JISQ 9100 (Asia) standard. For the automotive industry the standard to comply to is ISO/TS 16949 (now IATF 16949). And those two examples are only standards for the quality management system.

Pharmaceutical industry, as some others, require a license to operate. In order to be awarded such a license and to keep it, the company must comply to all requirements, undergo periodic audits and keep record of anything happening along the manufacturing process. This industry is under constant scrutiny of government agencies, regulators, etc.

Therefore, the paperwork associated with products is impressive and requires a lot of resources in the dedicated processes, and as we will see, likely to host a system’s constraint!

Over time, layers of requirements accumulated. And what is a requirement if not a limitation of the way to execute, a constraint?

Quality assurance

Quality assurance (QA), according to wikipedia, comprises administrative and procedural activities implemented in a quality system so that requirements and goals for a product, service or activity will be fulfilled. It is the systematic measurement, comparison with a standard, monitoring of processes and an associated feedback loop that confers error prevention. This can be contrasted with quality control, which is focused on process output.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality_assurance

Anyone working with a Quality Assurance department soon realises that this department is more acting as a defense attorney for the company against regulatory or standardization agencies, and a watchdog internally than a support for improving quality by problem solving.

For obvious reasons, QA and Production must have a clear divide, as it would not be acceptable for the maker to assess and certify the quality of his own production. Their staff are also distinct. QA usually has a huge influence on decisions and can be very powerful, to the point that top executives have to accept QA decisions, especially when QA has to sign off the release of a batch or clear the allowance to ship.

QA activities are mainly administrative, with some lab testing. QA staff is “white collar”, working a typical 9 to 5, 5 days a week regardless of production. Some QA authorizations are mandatory for the physical batch to move to the next step in the process. Many productions run more than one shift, up to 24/7, while QA works 1 shift 5 days a week. As a result, the paperwork relative to production batches accumulate during the QA off-period and is later flushed during QA working time.

Now here comes the first problem. The difference of working time patterns send waves of workload through the system. It is not uncommon for some production batches to wait for QA clearance in front of a process or in a warehouse. This could give the impression that the bottleneck is in the next manufacturing processing step, but it is not.

In reality the bottleneck is in QA. It can be the plain process of reviewing of paperwork or some testing, measurement, analyses, etc. A trivial yet common bottleneck is the “qualified person”, the one or few ones entitled to sign off the documents. Those people, usually managers, are busy in meetings and other work and let the paperwork wait for them.

Note that QA activities are not always extensively described in the production task lists, do not always have allocated time and if they have, QA department is seldom challenged about the staff adhering to standard time neither to possibly reduce the duration by some improvements. This can lead to underestimate the impact of QA’s activities on the production lead time and “forget” to investigate this subject when searching for the bottleneck.

Dependence on third parties

With an ever growing number of requirements to fulfill and proofs, certificates and log files to keep ready in case of inspection, many specialized tests and measurements are farmed out to third parties. It makes sense, in particular if those activities are sporadic, the test equipment expensive and maintenance of skills and qualification for personnel mandatory.

Now this type of subcontracting bears the same risks than any other subcontracting: supplier’s reliability, capability, capacity, responsiveness, etc. and the relative loss of control of the flow as it is now dependent on a distinct organization. The system’s constraint may well be located then outside of the organization, and even beyond its sphere of influence!

Beware of the feeling of being in control when the third party operates in-house. I remember such a case where a specialized agency was doing penetrant inspection and magnetic crack detection in the company. While everything seemed under control, the external experts often failed to come as scheduled because they still were busy elsewhere or had sick leave. When they were in-house, they frequently lost a fair amount of their precious time moving parts around, a kind of activity not requiring their qualification but significantly reducing their availability for high-value added tasks. It turned out that this spot in the factory often was a bottleneck due to the lack of management’s attention.

Where Value Stream Mapping can help finding the constraint

These examples above show that the information flow or paperwork associated to the physical flow can have a significant influence on lead time and can even decide if the flow has to stop.

In such cases Value Stream Mapping (VSM) can help finding the constraint as it describes both physical and information flows on a single map. Note that some companies including Toyota refer to VSM as MIFA, the acronym of Material and Information Flow Analysis.

Without such a map to guide the investigations, people on shop floor may forget to mention (or are not even aware of) analyses, tests, approvals, paperwork review, etc. during interviews of gemba walks. Experienced practitioners will ask about these possibilities when inquiring in strong standard or regulation-constraint environments.

Where the Logical Thinking Process can help

When the system’s constraint remains elusive despite all the search with previously mentioned means, Theory of Constraints’ Thinking Processes or the Logical Thinking Process variant can help finding the culprit by analyzing the Undesirable Effects at system level.

This later approach is best suited for “complex problems” when the constraint is a managerial matter, conflicting objectives, inadequate policies, outdated rules or false assumptions, myths and beliefs.

To learn more about the Logical Thinking Process and the logic tools, see my dedicated pages, series and posts on this blog.

About the Author, Chris HOHMANN

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How to identify the constraint of a system? Part 1

A very common question once people get familiar with Theory of Constraints and the notion of bottlenecks and constraints is how to find them in a process. Identifying the constraint is key as the constraint, by its nature, controls the performance of the whole system.

The trouble with examples given in textbooks or case studies is that they are rather simple compared to finding the constraint in real life. This difficulty grew over time as processes got more complex, adding new layers of rules, standards and regulations. This complexity grew to an extend that many constraints remain elusive to people searching them, leading many people to be wrong when identifying “their” constraint.

Facing this kind of difficulties, readers asked me if a formal procedure to identify the constraint exists. I am not aware of such a procedure and from my experience the search for the constraint is much more like a detective’s job requiring investigation skills than applying a recipe. Some common patterns and similarities may exist, but every organization has some specificities that make the search for the constraint a special case. Therefore intuition and experience are definitely of great help.

In this series of post, I propose to review such investigations, that may help readers to transpose in their own situation, and eventually try to wrap up guidelines to identify constraints.

The usual suspects

First let’s review common bottleneck resources, keeping in mind that being a bottleneck is not synonymous of being a constraint and, as a general rule, a constraint is (and should be) a resource too long or too expensive to get more of it, or put differently turn it in a non-constraint.

A constraint was long said to be a very expensive piece of machinery or equipment which is too expensive as an investment to afford another one for additional capacity or which is not currently available.

Big stamping machines or presses, painting booth, heat treatment, surface treatment or sophisticated machine tools made good candidates for being bottlenecks and ultimately constraints.

Bad news is that things evolved, as we will see, and even if those bulky expensive or scarce equipment still make good candidates for the constraint status, they are not always the constraint.

For instance, I worked in a engineer-to-order company designing and manufacturing heavy mechanical equipment. The heat treatment was said to be the constraint and was managed by-the-book as a constraint.

After a short diagnostic, it turned out that heat treatment was not the constraint. It wasn’t because the true constraint was elsewhere in the process and those heat treatment operations could be subcontracted nearby at short notice and reasonable price. The subcontracting gave sprint capacity and provided relief whenever necessary. So heat treatment, even with long cycle times, was nothing really scarce nor excessively expensive.

Why was the heat treatment mistakenly thought to be the constraint? Because literature on the subject point this kind of process as usually being a bottleneck (remember: not enough capacity with regard to average demand placed on it). If indeed the workload often exceeded the capacity, the heat treatment was not the constraint. Failing to understand the difference between bottleneck and constraint led to a wrong conclusion.

Where was the real constraint? In engineering department where equipment are designed: people with specific skills that are long to learn.

More usual suspects

Very slow processes are usually also good candidates as bottlenecks: drying, curing, maturation, chemical or biological reactions, etc.

People with specific skills (as we have seen), knowledge, abilities, expertise, etc. that cannot easily be hired can also become constraints. So are some raw materials that are rare or dependent on harvest, climate, embargo, shortage, etc.

In some areas it is difficult to find some qualified workforce like welders, forklift drivers or specialists in some trade, which makes them constraints even so their profession is not so scarce at a larger scale.

When the constraint is not obvious nor easy to find, its identification becomes a matter of investigation. Investigation will start in part 2.


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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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My blog’s third birthday

January 2014 – January 2017, my blog is now online for 3 years and counts 347 posts.

Thanks to all of you my audience is gently growing on this blog, as well as on my Youtube channel and on tweeter. All organic!

What is the most read here?

According to the stats, Constraint vs. bottleneck is the absolute winner, ahead of 3D Printing and Porter’s five forces ranking second.

Then comes a string of posts related to the Logical Thinking Process and the popular Goal Tree.

What’s on schedule for 2017?

Well I have a huge inventory of titles, topics, half-written posts on the various subjects I’d like to share: Lean Management, more about Logical Thinking Process and Theory of Constraints, my prospective survey about the future of manufacturing and much more.

I’ll try to post on a regular basis and bring some value-added content. You are welcome to give me feedback in the comments.

Hope to see you here!

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Bill Dettmer and David Poveda share views about planning

David Poveda is a Colombia-based consultant, Owner and  Director of FLOWING Consultoria. David is well-known for his successful implementations of Theory of Constraints (ToC) and Lean-based solutions, and his expertise about Demand Driven MRP (DDMRP).

Just before the Logical Thinking Process training in Paris, in June 2016, he paid a visit to Marris Consulting and met Bill Dettmer. Both agreed to share thought about various subjects and in front of recording camcorder.

In this 10 minute video, David shares his views about planning techniques and somewhat surprisingly links ToC’s Thinking Processes to planning, especially Bill Dettmer’s Goal Tree .

According to David, the Thinking Processes should be called “the real planning processes“, because they are a complete planning and execution methodology. Bill is somewhat taken by surprise and explains the origins of his Logical Thinking Process (LTP) being in complex problem solving, but realizing with David’s inputs that changing what is done requires competent planning.

David goes on and explains that a Goal Tree is a planning tool for smaller projects as well, and many of David’s clients agree about not knowing how to plan. Therefore the LTP should be taught more widely.

We are all Lean now. What’s next?

Every once in a while, for nearly 30 years, the question arises: “what’s the next big thing after Lean?”, suggesting that the askers are done with Lean. We write July of 2016 and it seems that everybody is Lean now.

Many people have been repeatedly exposed to Lean methods and tools, have been involved in Lean workshops, kaizen events, sketched Value Stream Maps and identified wastes, sorted out, cleaned up and rearranged stuff 5S style.

They have seen improvements, celebrated the workshop’s success and were dismissed with a feeling of mission accomplished. Others didn’t see a clear outcome, noticeable improvement or a sustainable result and resumed their regular work.

Both may have a legit feeling of being done with Lean, the first because their objectives were met, the latter because Lean doesn’t work.

Almost everybody has heard about Lean, in good or bad, in manufacturing or administration, in hospitals or software development. Lean is a word that found its way into the business lingo, and hearing it often makes it familiar.

There is also the growing impatience as everything speeds up and the instant satisfaction sought by everyone becomes commonplace. Few people are able to commit to a very long and tedious journey towards excellence in the Lean way, most would prefer periodical quantum leaps. Just as they replace their smartphone from one model/generation to the next, keeping up with fashion or state-of-the-art technology.

Of course we are far from done with Lean and very very few companies I’ve visited can claim being Lean. Nevertheless I can understand the fading interest in Lean and the need to reinvigorate it with something new and effective.

Something new means something new to people they didn’t know about until now, not necessarily new per se. Effective means bringing positive results system-wide, not a local optimisation.

My advice would be to consider Throughput Accounting, Critical Chain Project Management and the Logical Thinking Process.

This is not about the next big thing AFTER Lean but the next big thing WITH Lean!

Throughput Accounting (TA) is not really accounting but rather a Throughput-based decision-making approach. In a nutshell, TA shifts focus from cost reduction to Throughput increase and optimization. Follow this link to know more.

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) revisits Critical Path Method, the prevalent project management method that failed so far to get developers and project teams to finish on time. CCPM makes sure that projects finish on time and that, thanks to continuous improvement Lean and CCPM style, project durations can be shortened in future.

Logical Thinking Process (LTP) copes with system-wide complex problems. It provides logical tools and methods to surface and neutralize false assumptions, beliefs, conflicting objectives and the like that hinders the organization achieving its goal.

Giving a try with any or all TA, CCPM and LTP, will reveal new potentials and focusing points for Lean to exploit them. Lean isn’t gone soon.


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My takeaways from throughput accounting, the book

I knew the author, Steven M. Bragg from his podcast series “Accounting Best Practices with Steven Bragg” before I came across his book “throughput accounting, a guide to constraint management” published by Wiley & sons, 2007.

Book presentation

The hard cover book has 178 pages, 10 chapters, easy to read in neat presentation and legible fonts, with numerous tables, graphs and illustrations to back up all the provided examples and case studies.
It claims to contain the tools needed to improve companies performance for accountants, financial analysts, production planners or production managers.

>Lisez-moi en français

The book starts head on by introducing the basics of Theory of Constraints (ToC) in an uncommon, and for me daring way: explaining very briefly the Drum-Buffer-Rope (DBR) logic, in chapter 1 (page 1!).

It is daring because it’s a shortcut putting DBR upfront when it’s usually presented to newbies (long) after explaining the bottleneck concept and the differences between traditional manufacturing, trying to run every resource at full utilisation rate, versus the ToC approach where “only” the bottleneck matters (this is another shortcut, but of mine…).

It goes on with presentation about the different types of constraints, not all being bottlenecks, discussing the nature of the constraint (page 5). The Throughput Accounting (TA) KPIs are presented page 7 and 8 before diving into the financial aspects of TA.

Chapter 2 is about Constraint Management in the factory, starting with how to locate the constraint and how to manage the constrained resource. The various hints are clearly targeting managers or readers keeping some distance from shopfloor as they give enough insight without being too detailed. No people will go through and get bored, the various hints are condensed within few lines, without giving up anything important.

Four pages deal with policy constraints, again something of interest for managers and readers that may have influence within their own organization to educate their colleagues about the drawbacks of some policies and hopefully change them. The importance of constraint buffer comes page 25 followed by the importance of proper batch sizes and machine setups.

Chapter 3 is about throughput (T) and traditional cost accounting concepts and starts with the emphasis on cost versus Throughput and goes on with all the consequences describing why traditional cost accounting – companies that means – is suffering from several problems.

This chapter is important for people not very familiar with accounting, especially in operations, because it explains some of the decisions that make no big sense when considered from operations point of view. It is also important for those familiar with traditional cost accounting for to understand the limitations and problems brought up by that approach.

Chapter 4 is about Throughput and Financial Analysis Scenarios and from page 59 to 86 take the readers through 14 different scenarios, from Low Price, High Volume Decision to Plant Closing Decision.

Chapter 5 is on Throughput in the Budgeting and Capital Budgeting Process, chapter 6 about  Throughput and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and chapter 7 about Throughput and Control Systems.

Chapter 8 details Throughput and Performance Measurement and Reporting Systems, interesting because it links the operations’ reality to usable KPIs, e.g.

  • Ratio of Throughput to Constraint Time Consumption
  • Total Throughput Dollars Quoted in the Period
  • Constraint Utilization
  • Constraint Schedule Attainment
  • Manufacturing Productivity
  • Manufacturing Effectiveness
  • Order Cycle Time
  • Throughput Shipping Delay
    And more.

Chapter 9 is named Throughput and Accounting Management and addresses 12 decision areas among which: Throughput Analysis Priorities, The Inventory Build Concept, Investment Analysis, Price Formulation.

Finally chapter 10 presents 7 Throughput Case Studies each of them in a couple of pages.

My takeaways

The book is easy to read and to all concepts are easy to understand thanks to the simple ways the author puts them. Not being an accounting specialist at all, I always liked the simple, pragmatic and concise ways Steven Bragg explains accounting rules or practices. This book is not different.

Reading “throughput accounting, a guide to constraint management” reinforced both my knowledge and my interest in throughput accounting, as well as the conviction about throughput accounting being a powerful and crucial decision-making approach.

I’ve marked dozens of pages with sticky notes highlighting my points of interest and/or inspirations for posts on my blog, reinforcing my consulting approach, etc.

Throughput accounting

Almost all companies have their management heavily influenced by traditional cost accounting and most of them make ill-oriented decisions. With the book’s content help, it is easier to explain to CFOs and CEOs why their decisions are biased by false assumptions or outdated rules, something that can be quite shocking to them.

The book doesn’t come cheap, but as it explains, quit reasoning in terms of cost savings and consider how much (intellectual?) Throughput it can leverage.


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