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.....



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