Atomic Buffalo Turds or a review of Velocity
Another business novel from the Theory of Constraints community, and I blew through it again - finishing it in about a day. These things read fast by design, but they tend to have a lot tucked into them. This time it is Velocity by Dee Jacob, Suzan Bergland and Jeff Cox. The core idea of the book is to show how to use Theory of Constraints, Lean, and Six Sigma together to improve the system overall.
The novel tells the story of a company president who is new to the job and learning by fire how to run a business. A big element of that fire is attempting to apply Lean and Six Sigma (LSS) to improve operations in a manufacturing facility and a research lab. The LSS activities do some good, but operating in a world where corporate policies (and blindly-followed computer systems) drive the wrong behaviors. Rather than introduce Theory of Constraints through a "guru" as happens in The Goal (also co-authored by Jeff Cox), two of the characters in the book are familiar with Theory of Constraints and are able to bring TOC into the conversation, eventually. I like how the TOC concepts were introduced and described by the characters in several different ways to help the ideas sink into the story. As a TOC consultant, I could see them right away, but it was nice to see these multiple ways of describing the ideas.
That eventually was a bit of my struggle with the book. It seemed like it took far too long to get to the point - particularly when one of the characters familiar with TOC sat in the manufacturing plant - but could not stop from butting heads with the LSS promoter. But then, most organizations believe that change and improvement MUST take a long time, such as the year that the LSS efforts are given in this story. The first half of the book did a lot to set up the overall issues of the story and introduce the ideas of LSS and how it works - and where it might fall down.
It takes an ultimatum from the top of the corporation for the president to step back and evaluate what is going on. And for several other characters to be in a position to think about different ways to do things. And rather than provide a simple "TOC is the way" answer, the story takes the president through the process of building a Current Reality Tree (which they call an UDE tree) - a tree that logically links all the Undesirable Effects (UDE's) into a logical description of the current reality. And from there, they turn this around and develop a Future Reality Tree that describes a new reality AND how they are going to start getting there. While it is difficult to build these things on a book scale, I thought they did a good job of combining the dialog in the book with fragments of these trees. And they come back to these trees several times in the climax and wrap-up of the story as they learn more about the current reality and as they decide to do more to improve their future reality. The book introduces many more ideas familiar to the TOC community and in a similar fashion: they just make sense to the protagonists, rather than a tools introduced from the outside.
What's up with the title of this post, you might ask. Several characters in this book have a fondness for foods - unusual foods. You have pizzas being baked in laboratory-grade ovens (to get the requisite temperature for a crispy crust) or two old hands at the manufacturing facility lunching on various "secret recipe" dishes and talking about their work and problems. And then there are Atomic Buffalo Turds (photo): jalapeno peppers, stuffed with smoked sausage and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon and then baked. There's a vegetarian version mentioned in the book, but I couldn't find a decent recipe online.
Besides that it's funny, the food in this book serves an important purpose, and one that is spelled out pretty clearly by one of the main characters: if you don't have a more-than-just-work relationship with people, it is nearly impossible to get things done. Without some social capital, it's difficult to go outside the lines and work with one another in situations that aren't by-the-book. And how much of work is by the book anyway? The characters in this book use this to learn from one another as well as to ask each other for assistance.
And the Velocity in the title of the book? That has to do with the combination of Theory of Constraints to provide focus / direction, and Lean + Six Sigma to provide speed. Direction + Speed = Velocity.
[Photo: "Atomic Buffalo Turds" by dustjelly]
Previous entry: KM is not for looking pretty
Next entry: What is the right culture for your organization?