12 February 2010

Surviving the recession with breakthrough thinking - Part 2

Thinking should be a process
Now that your management team is has identified a goal and they have a theory by which to consider the data they might collect, they are far better situated to determine what information might be valuable to them. If your team is focused on gathering relevant information where the goal is making more money, and the framework or theory tells us that there must be at least one bottleneck or constraint in our system (the whole enterprise), your team now knows the very first question to ask and answer. That question is: “What is our constraint or bottleneck to making more money tomorrow than we are making today?”

While we might find some hints in the data stored within your existing ERP database and other computer systems, it is far more likely that what is really valuable in finding the answer to this critical question is presently being held in the minds of your own firm’s managers and leaders all across the organization. We call this kind of undocumented information consciously or subconsciously filed away by the organization’s people day by day “tribal knowledge.” Tribal knowledge is what they have learned through facts and circumstances accompanied by their subjective intuition about what they have garnered objectively.

The relatively limited amount of information that is required to soundly answer the key question we have identified is actually better defined from probing the staffs’ intuitions – tribal knowledge – regarding the context of the organization, the uniqueness found in it and its products, and how it works or does not work in delivering value to its customers.

In almost every problem, the value of the factual details pales in significance when compared to the framework and setting in which the details transpire. Breakthrough thinking comes from the application of intuition that gives meaning and cohesiveness to the observations made.

Traditional information-gathering efforts focus on the past (historical data captured in computer systems or elsewhere) or the present failings. Unfortunately, since these cannot – by their nature – be an effective guide for the future, the real breakthroughs emerge from the intuition of those closest to the workings of the “system” – the organization taken as a whole.

You and your management team might begin by gathering a cross-functional team of staff whom you deem to be trustworthy and experienced in their functions within your enterprise. Then, simply commence by asking this simple question: “What small handful of things do each of you see as keeping our firm from making more money tomorrow than we are making today?”

 Give each of them several three-by-five cards or large stick-notes and ask them to jot down these factors for you. Before they begin writing, give them the following guidelines:
  • State each thought as clearly as possible 
  • Include an “actor,” as in “Our vendors provide us with too many defective components for Product Line A.”
  • Do not include assumed cause-and-effect statements. For example, do not say “Competition is driving prices down, so our salespeople offer too many discounts to make sales.” Instead, make each of these comments stand on their own if you believe them to be true. Write them as separate items thus: “Our competitors are driving prices down,” and “Our salespeople offer too many discounts in order to make sales.”
  • Put each statement on a separate card or stick-note.
You should refer to these as undesirable effects or UDEs (pronounced: YOU-dee-ees) as did Eli Goldratt when he first promulgated the Thinking Processes. Naturally, some of the participants will have more ideas to jot down than others. Your object in this part of the exercise is to come up with roughly 20 unique UDEs with which to begin creating your organization’s Current Reality Tree – a logical tree that will depict what is not working – what is keeping your organization from making more money tomorrow than it is making today.

You can learn more about Eliyahu Goldratt and the Thinking Processes, including Current Reality Trees by doing an Internet search on any or all of these terms, or review this and related Wikipedia articles. You will also find additional references and application of the Thinking Processes right here at GeeWhiz to R.O.I.

Every problem is unique and is likely to require a unique solution
A wise man once said, “No man crosses the same river twice: for both the man and the river have changed with each crossing.” The must be said in the realm of business problem-solving.

One of the most frequently occurring and devastating errors executives and managers make in problem-solving and planning is that one problem or situation is identical to another. Fads in management come and go, but no fad or prior experience can take into account fully the differences in time, place, people involved, surrounding conditions, and the present purpose of reaching a breakthrough. The Thinking Processes, however, are able to leverage the “tribal knowledge” and intuition available within your organization to discover unique responses to unique situations even when they may appear (on the surface) to be “just like” what you faced last month or last year.

Furthermore, the Thinking Processes are able to decipher and disarm cultural differences and conflicting values within your organization without compromise – which is nothing more than accepting the best of the worst options and blending it with the worst of the best solutions.

Far too many managers and executives go out of the way to draw comparisons between their present reality and some other situation believed to be similar. These similarities may be expounded to great length even though the two situations may be separated by miles, years and even involve entirely different companies and personnel. This propensity stems from a desire to reach an “efficient” solution while feeling some satisfaction about being “objective,” as well. It also reduces or eliminates much of the requirement for actually thinking about the uniqueness of the organizations present situation. The Thinking Processes’ Current Reality Tree (CRT) simplifies that while providing management with a truly objective and rational view of what is keeping the “system” from achieving more of its goal.

[To be continued]
©2010 Richard D. Cushing

No comments: