I picked up Kevin Kohl’s Addicted to Hopium - Throughput: Using the DVA Business Process to Break the Guesswork Habit after hearing him speak this spring at the TOC ICO conference.
Hopium - that funny drug that has people believing something good will happen this time - despite all evidence to the contrary (or despite no evidence either way).
The book is a fictionalization of the long history that Kohls has had in bringing Theory of Constraints and related approached to GM and other organizations. Kohls gives us the story of MegaCo and engineer Andrew Wright and their journey from barely being able to keep their heads above water to applying a strategic approach to improvement, thanks to the impetus of a guru in the form of a possible customer.
The core of the improvement approach is his “DVA Business Process” that looks at Dependencies, Variation, and Analysis within an operation and seeks opportunities to improve. Kohls combines Theory of Constraints concepts (Five Focusing Steps, Thinking Processes, Throughput Accounting) along with ideas borrowed from many other areas, such as Lean and the ideas in Daniel Pink’s Drive and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit (my review). I love how he incorporates the idea of the Trigger-Routine-Reward loop from Habit into the overall DVA cycle. DVA has a lot of elements tucked into it, but I think the book does a good job of describing the elements and how they work together to create an ongoing improvement process.
About a quarter into the book is a conversation about “addiction” to Hopium and the enablers behind it. These are some very familiar topics in the world of improvement and flow.
Multitasking is a waste. This is alway as a strange one. It seems everyone agrees, but few are willing to stop creating the environment where we are pressured to multitask.
Money ALWAYS plays a role.
Focus - Find - Fix - Repeat. We cannot fix everything, so the focus must come first. See items #1 and #2.
1 “oops” = 5 "Attaboys”. Kohls uses a different term, but the idea is that negative variation tends to have a more powerful impact than positive variation, mostly due to the nature of dependencies in the system.
You show up, You get paid. This has to do with the assumption that saving “30 minutes” of someone’s time is actual savings - unless that person no longer works for the company, it is not true savings.
Internal savings vs. Savings. As with #5, saving in one department that ends up costing another department is NOT savings.
More measures, more conflicts. Measure are seen as a means of control, but if they measure the wrong thing (which most do), then you end up getting the wrong behaviors. Have a fun conversation about “efficiency” or machine uptime some day.
The org chart does NOT reflect the system. The idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts is important, and yet we still operate each department as if efficiency everywhere will lead to bottom line results.
This take on the business novel takes some of the guesswork out of “how do you make this work” by adding a final couple of chapters that dive into how the overall DVA (dependencies, variation, and analysis) process works, which is helpful either as a reference or to get a fast read on the concept before reading the story.
Some additional useful quotes and thoughts as I read through the book:
“Finding a problem is not the problem - finding the right problem to fix first is the problem.” This statement in a variety of forms is the core behind systems thinking. What is the goal/objective of the system, and what is keeping us from getting more of it? Anything else is a distraction - a costly distraction when our time and attention are limited.
The business system has to run without significant management engagement. The system must be designed to run itself, including corrective measures when the system moves outside desired bounds. The resulting decisions need to be better than taking a guess AND fast. (also add in materials about understanding buffers, statistical process control, etc.)
“Management’s job … is to provide the process to lift the smoke screen and keep it from coming back. This means understanding the reasons for the problems, challenging assumptions, and creating the business process that will lead to improvement.”
“A trap in CI (continuous improvement) is to assign a precious resource full-time to a particular area.” This is something that arises over and over again in the work I’ve been doing. “If only we had a dedicated team.” or “Jodi should be dedicated to X.” But if that team or resource is needed elsewhere - on something that is truly of more value - how will such a system respond? An interesting approach I have seen is to ensure that truly precious resources are not assigned to ANY teams or projects. They are consultants and are given everything they need to support the teams when needed - including making sure there are people learning what they do, so the expert can focus on things only the expert can do.
Minor note: I assume this book was self-published, as I found a number of minor editing errors that were annoying but relatively easy to read past. Kohls has at least one more book in process in a similar vein that will cover project management. I’m looking forward to it.