Sunday, March 31, 2013

Echoes of TOC - Volume 1

A few months ago Rajeev Athavale sent out a call for articles in some of the TOC groups I'm a member on. He informed us he was self publishing an eBook by collecting these to create more TOC resources. I saw that call and thought what he was doing was a great thing and that I'd probably want that eBook once published. A few days later I got a mail from him asking me to contribute to the book. I was shocked but very very pleased. I decided to give it a go but I wanted to make sure I brought my own twist to it. I did not want to go head to head with writers I feel know much more than me. So I decided not to write an article on business management using TOC. Instead I wrote an article about using the EC for resolving  internal, emotional conflicts. It was this work that rekindled my passion for writing about TOC, so thank you, Rajeev for the support and kind words.

Anyways, Rajeev informed me today that the eBook has been published. I'm in total awe at the work he has put forth at such a short space of time. I have just looked through it and there is a lot of reading to be done, as those articles look great. I can't wait to buy Vol 2.

You can view a sample from the book here, my article is not in it, so I do suggest you buy the book (LOL). Please remember that 70% of proceedings are dedicated to the Goldratt Foundation in order to promote TOC projects.

I hope to expand on the work I started in that article in future blog entries, but there is so much to do and share.

Good luck to "Echoes of TOC", I hope they keep ringing loud and clear.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Theory of Constraints Change Process

Everywhere we go people are talking about the need for a change, be it a small, local change like finally maintaining a healthy weight or having a better environment at the office or a big, global change like reducing poverty or illiteracy. Sometimes this talk translates into action - we go on a diet, the boss sends out an email with a new policy, people take to the streets to demonstrate.... sometimes a revolution erupts. But after the dust settles and as time goes by we repeatedly find out that the "after" picture is just as unappealing as the "before" picture. Efforts have been put forth - blood, sweat, tear, sometimes lives, to generate a totally unsatisfying result. In business speak, we'd call that a negative Return On Investment (ROI). Not exactly investment best practice, even if money did not come into play.

A main reason for these poor results is incomplete planning. We've all heard it - fail to plan and you plan to fail. But how do you plan?  Theory of Constraints calls for a 3 stage planning process:
  1. Define what you want to change
  2. Define what you want to change to
  3. Define how to change
I see way too many change processes, at all levels, where people "put the pedal to the metal" half way through stage 1. So we figured out, sort of, what we dislike in the current situation and off we go to "do something about it". Yes, of course I'm as guilty as hell of this, aren't you? 

It's just like a trip or a hike. Step 1 is our starting point, step 2 is our end point and step 3 is the planned route. Notice this is the logical order - if you do not know where you plan to start and finish you can't decide on the route. Of course, we can always go out and stroll aimlessly, but if the starting point has been defined as unsatisfactory then such a stroll, that could easily lead back to the starting point, is counter productive.

What will happen if we go through the whole process before we begin changing things around? I don't have an answer to that, the process seems logical so I would expect a high return on investment, but I have to try it out myself before I can make any statements. In the book "We All Fall Down" Julie Wright and Russ King clearly show the negative loop this kind of behavior creates.

In the mean time, here is an example. The story line represents the order of execution - 1-3-2. See if you can deduct all the stages from the clip and if you can figure out better (or more efficient) solutions.....

Thursday, March 28, 2013

On the value of examples

I't seems I've stirred a kettle of bees (is this the right phrase?) with this post, and especially the not so subtle (or appropriate) header I used to promote it in the LinkedIn TOC Learning Network group. The ensuing discussion made me think about a few examples of the need and use of examples....

So, first off - why do we need examples? Examples help us make the shift from the stratosphere of theory to 'sea level' practical use. They help us understand the theory and figure out how it's used so we can then apply it. The best example I can find to this is cooking. When I started cooking I used cook books and quickly moved from text only books to those books that had step-by-step demonstration pictures, because the theoretical explanations weren't helping me create the needed results. These pictures helped me progress a bit but I was still messing up quite a few dishes. Once I went into a live cooking demonstration and learnt by example how to perform the techniques, I started getting things right, which then created the basis for more and advanced learning by doing, a.k.a self learning.

Next important point to cover is - why do we need multiple examples? I find that each new example highlights the subject matter from a new angle and increases the clarity of understanding. If, by any chance, a miscommunication has happened between the teacher (be that teacher a real person or a teaching medium) and the learner, more examples increase the chance of surfacing this and getting it corrected. This has happened to me a few years ago when I was helping my son catch up in Math. He needed to learn long addition (I think). I taught him the concept and had him practice on examples I made up. I was pretty sure he got it all. Then we found a workbook and he sat down to use it. He stumbled on one of the most basic exercises. Turns out I forgot to teach him how to handle numbers that had zeros in them (as in 1023). My mistake for sure, but had we not practiced a wide variety of examples we would have missed that.

My last point to make is about the quality of examples - my math experience shows that quantity per se is not enough, we need a quantity of a high enough quality . This means there is a real need for a wide variety of examples. Using the same example over and over - even if we used different numbers and maybe even more digits, is not good enough. For this one I have a somewhat longer story I find funny. If I recall correctly, my brother told us this story and it had happened to him.

My brother majored in Mathematics (yep, those again) in his higher education. One day in class, the professor was teaching a very complex theme. As is the custom in higher education Mathematics, they were learning the theory and so the professor was using X,Y and Z to represent numbers. As the subject was very complex, the students requested a concrete example. After a few minutes of considerations the professor turned to the board, wrote "Let X=A, Y=B, and Z=C" and proceeded to resolve the equation using A,B and C. Now, having grown up with a Mathematics Professor for a dad, I can tell you that guy was, as far as he was concerned, complying with the request, but I'm sure that not only were the students not amused, they were also nowhere nearer to understanding the subject on hand.

Well, having stated my case for a high quality variety of examples, I'd like to discuss example recycling for just a tad. In this post I did talk against recycling examples. Well, like everything in life, this is not a black and white issue. There is one main situation where I would advocate FOR using the same example and that it when you are dealing with a progression of ideas. So, it would make sense to me to use the same example to explain DBR and s-DBR.

So, can anyone share with me other stories that demonstrate why examples are important and what makes an example good?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fall from grace

It has been over a year since I last wrote in this blog and while I have plenty of excuses, I'll be the first to admit most of it was just inertia. The other part, the thing that veered me in the wrong direction in the first place, was another round of disillusionment. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not finger pointing, it is totally my fault that I let this disillusionment take over, but that's just how it goes.

This is not my first round of disillusionment with Theory of Constraints and I consider these just growing pains, mainly since I am going through the process on my own, without a guiding hand. So I thought I may not be alone in this and that it might be a good idea to share my experience, it might be helpful to others.

I was first indoctrinated in Theory of Constraints through Dr. Goldratt's business novels, as I believe many others have been.  Business novels make a great teaching tool and I find a business novel creates the best business management book, as they make holistic action easy. They also read a bit like a cook book. When you read a cook book you can visualize everything coming out perfectly. In much the same way, business novels make things look easy even when the characters claim they are struggling. So when I tried to put these enticing concepts to practice I failed, miserably. I blamed the writers of the books, claiming it's easy for them as they control the fantasy world in which the story takes place. "It's like detective books" I told myself, "life doesn't work this way". And with that I put Theory of Constraints aside for many years.

I was lured back in the the Theory of Constraints world by courses I took during my MBA and then I had a chance to hear Dr. Goldratt talk. I was sold, it just made so much sense, it was just so simple it had to be right. This led to my decision to commit to learning Theory of Constraints and now there are plenty more resources available. I went to the Goldratt House for a seminar, read "The Choice", one of my highly recommended business books. Following all this I got the TOC handbook (well, the Kindle ebook, it's much lighter) and started making my way through it. Good read. A lot of useful information and then BAM, the idealization took another hit.

I was reading a chapter about the different uses of the evaporating cloud when it hit me. To me, this is one of the major shortcomings of the Theory of Constraints teaching I have encountered so far. I thought this presents a major set back for self learners and maybe for all newcomers, since it did for me. The problem is simple -  many of the examples available are recycled. The same example is used over and over to explain or present different aspects, without any new spice being added and it just looses traction, it is no longer explanatory. As far as I'm concerned, being that I learn better by doing and so need plenty of examples I can relate to, using the same example to explain the same concept is just as bad. I want new examples so they point to things I have not noticed with the previous ones.

Now, just to be clear, I am not claiming there is but one example out there. Certainly not! I am also not saying all Theory of Constraints thought leaders are doing this. Far from that! I'd also like to admit I understand where this practice is coming from, writing up examples is hard and even harder when you need to keep propriety information under wraps. All that being said, I think that if this is hindering my ability to use the text as it was meant to be used (that is - learn from it), it is my duty to point it out and share this information with the writers of the texts.

So yes, I was acting like a petulant teenager who just realized her idol was merely human, and I had it coming to me, as I really should not have done that. Still, the issue is real to me and I am taking liberty and calling out to all Theory of Constraints scholars - please make sure you give us a wide range of substantial examples.

And if you are on your own Theory of Constraints journey, please remember this is not a cult but a science and as such it has shortcomings. Just like in any other science, the work is never done. So do not idealize, that way you will not experience a fall from grace when things aren't exactly perfect. When you find that imperfection - that's your chance to make your mark in the world of Theory of Constraints, by doing what you can to fix it. I promise I'll try and contribute to fixing the example issue, even though I think I'm far from being a Theory of Constraints scholar.....