Developing a Simplified Improvement Strategy
From Dilemmas to Solutions
By Bruce H. Nelson,
Jonah, Jonah’s Jonah
TOCICO Board Certified
When Eli Goldratt1 first exposed the world to his then radical Systems Thinking Processes he presented them as the logical tools to express, and document, logical thinking in a very structured format. The improvement quest was centered on the ability to answer three questions:
1. What do I change? (What problem are you trying to solve?)
2. What do I change to? (What is the best solution to solve the problem?)
3. How do I cause the change to happen? (Implementing the solution into reality.)
Goldratt developed the five systems thinking tools to accomplish the necessary thinking tasks to succinctly solve a problem. Each of the five thinking tools aids the user with the ability to apply the tool as a singular component, or to use the tools in a sequential combination to strengthen the logical analysis even more. The five systems thinking tools are:
1. Current Reality Tree (CRT)
2. Evaporating Cloud (EC)
3. Future Reality Tree (FRT)
4. Perquisite Tree (PRT)
5. Transition Tree (TT)
Today, these five tools still remain as the foundational cornerstone of the Thinking Processes for the Theory of Constraints (TOC). These thinking tools have, through time, proven their worth to better understand and analyze simple, as well as, complex problems. For any of you who have been through a Systems Thinking Processes course and learned how to use these tools properly and effectively, you understand the “how” and “why” a good analysis can command a rigorous and sometimes sustained effort to accomplish the task. In others words, developing a useful and solid analyses using the Thinking Process tools can take some considerable effort. In some respects the time commitment required to do a good systems analysis has been a downside to using the thinking tools and has, in turn, caused many people to ignore the tools and turn their heads to the real power and usefulness they can provide.
Over the years Global dynamics have evolved to a level of forcefulness that instant gratification is now considered the norm – put your nickel in and get something out NOW! The dynamics of this global phenomenon have pushed us all to chant the mantra of - “Better, Faster, and Cheaper!” Waiting any amount of time for something to happen no longer seems to be an acceptable option - it’s the world we live in. There are situations and problems that are not accompanied by the luxury of the required time to figure them out. This requirement to be “Better, Faster and Cheaper” has not gone unnoticed in the network of the world’s Systems Thinkers.
The Evolution of the Thinking Processes
If an idea is presented to the world, and it’s a good idea, then somebody, somewhere, somehow will improve the idea and expand it to another level. The “improved” idea will overcome some of the prior inertia of the obstacles and issues that seemed to exist. If the idea is really good and accepted by many people, then the evolution of the idea continues. Each new level of improvement removes more of the obstacles from the previous level and each new level is presented as a form of unification of ideas from the previous level(s). This unification notion becomes the idea of doing more with less, or combining for better results. For instance, instead of doing three separate tasks, now you do one task and get better and faster results. In other words, through the steps of unification an idea can now become easier and more usable by more people. Such is the case for the TOC Systems Thinking Processes - a good idea that continues to evolve.
The Apparent Problem
As a person who has taught many Systems Thinking courses I’ve had the opportunity to present the Systems Thinking tools to a wide variety of people. The intellectual levels, the passion, and the job functions have been spread over a variety of individuals and industries. Teaching these courses has also delivered a wide range of results. In some classes there was 100% completion and in other classes results were dismal with a 75-80% failure rate. Failure rate in this case, is defined as those students who did not finish the course, which was usually related to the time commitment required.
In the early days of teaching this course the preferred approach was to provide a level playing field for all students and make it as linear as possible. The desire for doing this was to reduce as much variation as possible in the learning environment. However, even after creating the utopic venue, there were some surprises. In a typical class the students would be divided into teams so that each team had a minimum of two members and, in some cases three or more, if required. Each team was given a two page write-up (case study) about a fictitious company that was having problems. The assumed linear thinking was that everyone who read the paper would discover the same problems and ALL readers would eventually reach the same conclusions for the Undesirable Effects (UDE’s). Such was not the case. In a class with ten (10) students and five (5) teams it was very predictable that these five teams would develop five different core problems when they constructed their Current Reality Tree (CRT). It is a ponderous thought to speculate how it was possible for five different teams; each analyzing the exact same problem, to come up with five different answers? It was also a surprise to discover, that in most cases, each of the five different answers could be plausible! There was also another observation – the confidence level of the students in thinking they had correctly discovered the core problem was absent. It seemed that the constant question from the group was, “Is this the right core problem?” Even when a core problem was stated (defined), the lingering question became. ”Is this REALLY the core problem?”
When you apply a truly scientific method towards problem solving then, a potpourri of answers should not be possible – only one answer should be correct! And yet, at the same time, it appeared as if more than one answer could, in fact, be correct? Why? The answers provided by the students were not the same, and yet they all seemed to be related. It seemed that what was actually being exposed was a listing of the “obstacles” or “interferences” that stopped them from achieving what they wanted! All of the answers (the perceived core problems) presented were all plausible reasons (interferences) to better understand “why” what they wanted more of could not be achieved. This epiphany created a path back to a thinking tool that I had previously used– the Interference Diagram (ID).
In my next posting, I will expand upon the Interference Diagram and begin the process of linking it with another tool, the Intermediate Objectives map or what I call the ID/IO Simplified Strategy.