This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Beyond the Goal

I picked up the audio program Beyond the Goal by Eli Goldratt in my ever-growing library of Theory of Constraints materials.  It is a recording of a lecture series that Goldratt gave in the early 2000's where he looks back over 20 years of implementing TOC.

The program covers materials that are fairly familiar for those who are interested in this topic, but it also combines them in some ways that I hadn't heard (or hadn't picked up) previously.  It was also interesting to hear the beginnings of ideas that he would continue promoting and writing about after this program.

The program starts with a key concept that comes from Necessary but not Sufficient (review) and the statement that "Technology can only bring benefits if and only if it diminishes a limitation." From here, he builds upon the concepts in that book and from earlier materials. I really love the conversation about the rules and policies and practices that exist because of the limitation. The key that came from the book and from this program is that if we keep behaving according to the old rules, our system will still operate as if the limitation still exists! It would be as if we had the ability to get fresh food (a limitation) via refrigeration and fast, reliable transportation, but we still operated as if most food had to be canned and preserved - we would never get the benefit of this technology.

He continues to build on this conversation with some examples and then branches out to discuss the TOC-derived solutions for production, supply chain and project management and how these solutions resolve limitations and the large benefits they bring. BUT if we continue to operate under the same rules (local efficiencies being a major part of the conversation), the benefits would likely not appear or the solution might be dismantled entirely.

In Chapter 2, Goldratt has a fun conversation about how different disciplines define things. He talked about two definitions In particular: "complexity" and "problem."

Complexity: From Goldratt's perspective (and that of physics and engineering) the idea of complexity is tied to the degrees of freedom: the more degrees of freedom, the more complex.  In this setting it is described as "the more places you have to touch to have an impact, the more complex."  And from the Theory of Constraints perspective, there is an inherent simplicity - in a given system there is one (or very few) constraint. Once that is known, the understanding of what to change becomes much clearer. 

Problem: As usual in English, there are many ways to define "problem". In the context of this program, Goldratt clarifies what he means by the idea of a problem. A problem is something that prevents the system from reaching its objective. More specifically, Goldratt strongly claims that a problem must involve a conflict.  And then there is the fundamental belief: there is no conflict in reality. The TOC approach to defining a problem goes into defining the conflict that is creating the current situation -- and then analyzing the conflict to determine the underlying assumption(s) that is causing the apparent conflict. Identify the assumption and we can evaporate the conflict.

The example from TOC implementations that jumped out for me was related to projects. If we implements a new project management approach (like CCPM) that requires that people operate in a new way, how do those people continue to see themselves contributing value to the project? In the past, typically, people have been measured by hitting task-level promise dates. But in CCPM, we strive to remove those incentives and aim to flow from one task to the next as quickly as possible. This is great and has been successful over and over again. But how does an individual think about their own contribution and reliability? If we remove the practice, how do we replace it so that people can still be seen as being reliable?  What are those old rules - unwritten - that need to be uncovered and replaced. The big one is something to the effect of "in order to finish a project on time, each and every task must finish on time." This creates the effect of turning task estimates into commitments. And if we do this - people are measured against their estimates - then people will naturally try to protect themselves as much as possible.

Chapter 4 goes into the idea of measurements and variations on "measures drive behaviors." People respond to how they are measured, and if the measures drive the wrong behaviors, it is the measures to change, not the behaviors. In projects, the measure of holding people to their estimates drives the behaviors. In this section he talks more about the ideas of Throughput Accounting, and specifically measuring effectiveness as the primary driver (what should be done). He goes into a discussion of throughput-dollar-days and inventory-dollar-days, which seem like interesting measures, but I have not seen organizations use these concepts. There are some nice insights here, even if TDD and IDD haven't become common measures. 

The first rule of management is, “Be paranoid.” The second rule of management is, “Be paranoid.” The third rule of management is, “Don’t be hysterical.” - Some level of risk you must carry.
— Eli Goldratt in Beyond the Goal, Chapter 7

Chapter 5 comes back to Necessary But Not Sufficient, and the concept of applying Theory of Constraints to software development and software integration providers, along with plenty of other insights into business and the way people think regarding change. Chapter 6 then goes into a conversation about why the "Common Sense" solutions presented in TOC often do not get implemented - Goldratt suspects that people are stuck in yet another conflict: they look around and see all their competitors and colleagues operating the old way, and cannot make the leap to operating a new way. This then leads to Chapter 7 and the conversation of how to use the TOC thinking processes to help create large-scale changes in organizations. How to help the impatient visionary as well as the conservative managers to bring an organization through a change AND deal with the issues that arise in the core conflict of the organization. He describes how a full implementation uses the conflict diagrams, negative branch reservations and many of the other TOC thinking processes.  The description Goldratt provides really gets at the heart of the value behind these thinking tools. 

Having this audio of Eli Goldratt also tugs at the heartstrings a bit. He passed away in 2011, and I only had the opportunity to see him in person at conferences and similar events a few times. His excitement for the material and ideas always comes through in recorded materials. 

Soon: an Overdue Review

Carving instead of Imposing