12 November 2009

The New ERP - Part 5

Thinking Processes to the rescue

Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt introduced the Theory of Constraints (TOC) to the world in his book entitled The Goal, back in 1984. In the 25 years since its introduction, TOC has been applied successfully in a vast array of businesses, industries, not-for-profit organizations and government entities.

Too many executives and managers are stumbled by the use of the word "theory" in TOC. Unfortunately, this is something you'll likely have to just "get over." Dr. Goldratt was a physicist before becoming involved in the world of business, so he calls it a "theory," under the assumption that someone, someday may prove it wrong -- that an exception may be found. To date, however, no such exception has been discovered.

The "Thinking Processes" are five interrelated methods to allow the rational analysis of any system in support of focused improvement leading to ongoing improvement. By applying these tools, it is possible for an organization to construct a rational framework that accurately describes how an organization works and interacts within its industry and the economy in general. The primary Thinking Process to be applied in mapping the system's (organization's) current state is the Current Reality Tree (CRT). The accompanying figure is an example of such a logical tree.

The Current Reality Tree (CRT)
The CRT is predicated upon the fact that, in most organizations or "systems," the many factors that may be identified as "problems" really arise from a relatively small number of "roots" or "root causes." Applying the CRT Thinking Process allows executives and managers to capture and decode "tribal knowledge" about how their organizations function, and what is or is not working in a logical, re-readable written form.

Once placed in the CRT form, using rules of logic, this written document may be used by the entire management team to read, re-read, discuss and modify the logic until everyone is certain that the logic presented in the CRT reflects the "reality" expressed within the organization's operations. Hence, the tool's name is the "Current Reality Tree."

Constructing a Current Reality Tree
While experience in guiding a team through the Thinking Processes is beneficial, there is no magic in creating a CRT or applying any of the other TOC principles. You do not need me or any other consultant to do this. There are a number of good resources available online and in print that may be used to guide your firm through the effort. However, if you want a short-cut to effective, first-time application the Thinking Processes -- if you'd like to make real progress in the first day of your effort -- then using an experienced consultant may be the most cost-effective way of getting there.

Nevertheless, here are the basic steps:

To begin constructing a CRT, executives should gather a cross-functional team of ten or 15 key people from across the organization. This team should be briefed on the goal of creating a CRT and why it is important to the organization.

Having gathered the team, the members of the team should be asked select a single "goal" for the system (organization). In a for-profit organization, and where working on the "big picture" for the entire system, we recommend a goal similar to "To make more money -- both today and in the future." (While this is likely not something you want to put on company brochures as a mission statement, it is the true goal of every for-profit organization and every other goal is subsidiary to it. Quality, customer service, market leadership, or any other goal cannot be maintained for long in the absence of making money.)

With the single goal in mind, the next question to set before the team is this: "What is keeping us from reaching this goal?"

Naturally, when this question is asked, you are likely to get different responses from the sales and marketing folks than you will get from accounting or the production department. Ask them to jot down their responses as simple, clear sentences. Generally, I ask them to do so on 3"x3" sticky-notes. Ask them to include an "actor" in each sentence. Also, ask them to NOT include any "because" statements. Simply state the hurdle or blockage to achieving the goal.

Examples might be:
  • Salespeople spend too much time in the office doing paperwork
  • Our prices aren't competitive
  • The warehouse has too many out-of-stocks
  • Our lead times aren't competitive
  • ... and so forth
In working with the Thinking Processes, we stop referring to these as "problems," right away. We call these "Un-Desirable Effects" or "UDEs" (pronounced: YOU-dee-eez), for short. The reason we do this is because when we have "problems" we want to solve them. But, as we will see, all of these cannot be "solved" by addressing them directly. They are caused by occurrences elsewhere in the "system."

[To be continued]

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