15 February 2010

Surviving the recession with breakthrough thinking - Part 3

As you and your management team will realize as you work through the Thinking Processes (TPs), this approach to achieving breakthrough thinking recognizes that each challenge you and your organization faces requires a unique approach and a unique solution. Unlike other methods of problem-solving, applying the TPs recognizes the distinct needs, interests, abilities, limitations and power of all of the stakeholders. This capability of the process helps achieve breakthroughs by maximizing the quality and the effectiveness of the solution. Furthermore, the fact the solution will be invented by you and your management team, the likelihood of full implementation is increased. After all, people seldom work against their own inventions.

Discovering the transitional steps

One of the dangers of adopting or adapting a solution from a previous effort or somewhere or someone else is that, in doing so, the “easy answer” too frequently leads your team to also accept an “easy implementation” in which the transitional requirements are never fully understood. Warning! If the transitional steps are not understood – and usually not even clearly articulated – then the transitional steps are never fully developed for implementation.
What your management team may have previously understood as “the problem” and “the solution” have usually been nothing more than cryptic images shrouded in a fog of language leading to lots of action but seldom (if ever) a real breakthrough in improvement. However, if you have undertaken to build and understand the Current Reality Tree (CRT), then you have in your hands a document that depicts clearly and logically what is constraining your organization from making more money tomorrow than you are making today. Chances are that, as a result, you and your managers have a clearer understanding of your organization as a whole than you have ever had previously. You may be feeling a sense of empowerment – a renewed sense of being in control – that you have been lacking as manager for years now.
However, the Thinking Processes have more to offer than helping you clearly understand the “root” of your problem – the one thing (or very small number of things) that is your bottleneck (constraint) to achieving more of the goal. The CRT you have built has helped you answer a critical question for good management: What needs to change?
But two additional questions need to be answered, as well: What should the change look like? And, How do we effect the change? Fortunately, the Thinking Processes supply powerful tools to help your team discover and clearly articulate answers to these questions.
By building a Transition Tree (TrT), your management team will go through a Thinking Process that will help you apply sound logic to determining the transitional steps necessary to move from your organization’s Current Reality to your intended Future Reality. When you are done, your team should have three Thinking Process logical “trees” – a Current Reality Tree, a Transition Tree, and a Future Reality Tree. These three documents represent answers to the three critical questions to which your management team needs sound answers:
1.       Current Reality Tree – What needs to change?
2.       Future Reality Tree – What should the change look like?
3.       Transition Tree – How do we effect the change?
Note that the TrT should become your “road map” to change. This document, you will find, should clearly define the necessary steps to achieving the desired change right along with the rationale for taking these steps. Without such a map it is easy to get lost or lose focus on the breakthrough your team has calculated for achieving more of the goal.

Don’t get derailed

Chances are, while you and your management team are building the Transition Tree, that there will be some that will step forward say, “We won’t be able to do that because….” There are a couple of important points to consider when this happens.
First, keep your focus on what happens most in making more money for your organization. If you can increase Throughput on 97% of your transactions, do not let the unpredictable 3% of exceptions keep you from achieving the breakthrough change for the vast majority of circumstances. Paying too much attention to these exceptions will likely distort your solution.
However, if there is an objection raised that needs to be evaluated and where it could have an impact on effecting the overall change anticipated by the FRT, then there is a Thinking Process for this, as well. Under such circumstance, you and your team should consider what Eliyahu Goldratt called “Negative Branches.” These are smaller logic trees that supply answers to questions such as: “What will we do if…?”

Don’t get stuck

Sometimes – in fact, with some frequency – management teams such as yours get caught on the horns of a dilemma. They find that there appear to be rational arguments for two mutually exclusive paths to the same interim objective in their Transition Tree development.
For example: A manufacturing manager is measured and rewarded on two different metrics – defect rates and equipment maintenance expenses. Of course, he wants to be a good manager and to be rewarded properly for being a good manager, so he wants simultaneously produce quality parts and hold-down the equipment maintenance expenses. He knows that he can reduce maintenance expenses by doing on-demand maintenance only. He also knows that he can achieve lower defect rates if he applies routine preventive maintenance on the equipment under his management. Which of the two approaches to equipment maintenance should he choose?
Fortunately, the Thinking Processes have an answer for this situation, too. The tool is called the Evaporating Cloud and is critical to actually achieving breakthrough solutions.


To my knowledge, no for-profit organization in the world has ever achieved ascendency in its industry through “cost-cutting” efforts. Companies that grow and gain market share are more likely to be those that have achieved breakthroughs.
There are three basic ways to reach a breakthrough in your organization’s thinking:
1.       By chance
2.       By hiring people who are intuitively breakthrough thinkers
3.       By finding and applying a tool that is proven in drawing out breakthrough thinking from ordinary executives and managers – like the Thinking Processes
Which will your organization choose?
©2010 Richard D. Cushing

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