TOC Thinking - neatly summarized
Yishai Ashlag's new book, TOC Thinking: Removing Constraints for Business Growth, is a good overview of the Theory of Constraints approach to thinking about running organizations. Yishai Ashlag is a senior partner at Goldratt Consulting and brings experiences across many different types of project into short anecdotes in the book. And he is Eli Goldratt's son-in-law.
The intro describes the aim of this book as articulating Eli Goldratt's management philosophy through the lens of many key topics. As such, this book covers a lot of familiar ground for people familiar with TOC, along with bringing in the more recent thinking that can be seen at TOC conferences and hasn't been published as widely. Even though much of the content is familiar to me, I have dog-eared every 3rd page with notes about interesting aspects and useful pull quotes.
I had heard an early version of this book back at the Chicago TOCICO conference in 2012 (my notes), particularly the first section on the challenges (fears?) of dealing with uncertainty, conflicts, and complexity - and our strangely strong fascination with overly-sophisticated "solutions" to these challenges. The first section - and really the whole book - is a discussion of where management attention should be focused and how these challenges tend to divide attention while the TOC way of thinking tends to focus attention.
Where to focus attention? Many books and thinkers will tell you - on the most important things. Not on the urgent or the current fire. (But please do evacuate the building.) Less Is More and many others tell you that there has to be a guiding light. Theory of Constraints completely agrees. TOC's body of knowledge contain a number of ways to think about focus, which may be a focus problem of itself. There is the classic TOC Five Focusing Steps that creates the process of ongoing improvement. And in the past ten years, long-term TOC implementations have preferred to build business strategy with the Strategy and Tactics Trees that define how to Build the capability, Capitalize on it, and Sustain it for the long term. And more recently, or possibly in parallel with the S&T Trees, are the Four Concepts of Flow that talk about what a manager / organization should do. All three of these are interconnected. It might be helpful if they were more clearly related to one another.
My take is that once an organization decides on its Goal and the key Constraint to getting there (Five Focusing Steps), the Four Concepts of Flow help put the Exploit and Subordinate steps into context. How do you exploit? Get salable work to flow across the constraint. How do you subordinate? Make sure nothing gets int the way of flow. They are inter-related. The connection to the S&T Tree isn't as obvious because in Theory of Constraints, the thinking processes are a separate line of thinking from the Five Focusing Steps. However, the S&T Trees work under the assumption that the market is the true constraint, and that the operational capacity must always be kept subordinate to this fact.
[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book, as I am doing a large project with Goldratt Consulting. My opinions are likely to be swayed.]
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