A colleague uses these two definitions of focus to frame longer discussions of Theory of Constraints. (In shorter discussions, it is hard to cover all the fun and interesting areas.)
FOCUS: Fluctuations Often Cause Us to Suffer.
Fluctuations and variation is part of life in business. Trying to hide from it or drive it out entirely are options that many companies try to take to little success. Of course the other thing people do is make promises while allowing for the worst case variation. This ends up creating padding on top of padding for all sorts of things. It’s also the reason why many managers blindly cut by 25% or 50% any estimate they get from their people. That usually doesn’t go well either.
Fluctuations aren’t such a big deal in a small or independent system. But how much of business is independent? or small? It is at the edges and interactions where variations really show up. And it is the intersections which are ignored by the managers within their own systems.
One of the classic challenges for people who feel they are suffering under the effects of fluctuations is that they try to fix the variation. From a statistician’s perspective this is the wrong response (and creates more suffering). The first response should be to understand the system that generated the fluctuation. Is the variation in question a normal aspect of the system - is the system under statistical control? Or is the signal an outlier - caused by a specifically identifiable event. And if that event were removed, would the signal not appear? [I just finished Deming’s Out of the Crisis - blog post soon, I hope.]
From a TOC perspective it is also important to understand the system. But rather than focus on the statistical control (don’t ignore it either), TOC asks is where is the constraint. It is at the constraint where fluctuations have the biggest impact. The constraint is the operation / person / machine that limits the capacity of the entire system. And rather than removing variation entirely, TOC acknowledges that it’s a part of life and that we should try to manage in such a way that we needn’t jump at every event (fire fighting). It is at the constraint where downtime, poor maintenance, poor quality, etc really effect the whole system. And that is where one should focus.
FOCUS: Focusing On Constraints leads to Unparalleled Success.
Which would you rather have success or suffering?
[Photo: “quantum fluctuation" by conskeptical]