Management Skills

Theory of Constraints gives management tools and skills to analyze, problem solve, plan and communicate

A few Theory of Constraints techniques drawn from the suite of “TOC Thinking Processes” can transform the skill-sets of managers and supervisors.

Typical outcomes include improved communications, planning, and analytical abilities, … usually accompanied by lowered frustration levels.

From Conflicting actions to the underlying Policy Constraint

Every day, people in a plant are forced into conflict or dilemma situations – for example, achieve resource efficiency (don’t break into a set-up) or ship on time (break into a set-up).

Never starve production again (hold high inventories of certain materials) or keep finance off your back (reduce inventories).

These types of dilemmas always breed like rabbits after any major change inside an organization; a machine operator or his supervisor may be faced with (for example) a problem between doing what he’s just been told to do (in line with the new system), or doing what has been drummed into him for the past 10 years. and perhaps where he still thinks he’s being measured against (and he may be right). He’s in a lose/lose situation here.

The TOC technique allows the operator or the supervisor to quickly lay-out the dilemma in a way that surfaces the fact that a company policy or measurement, formal or informal, will be violated if the operator doesn’t do things the old way.

That policy or measurement is a constraint to the new direction and needs to be addressed by management.

This technique provides a clear picture of the conflict, the assumptions beneath it, the consequences of not going in one direction (lose) or the other (lose again) and provides a basis for a high level of communication between operator and supervisor, or between operator, supervisor and manager.

The Theory of Constraints positions the exercise as being “all of us against the problem,” and preempts the finger-pointing and blame and resentment that would be inevitable if the operator took either path without addressing the underlying conflict.

Strengthening someone else’s plan without criticism Another technique: someone comes up with a suggestion or a plan of action and asks you what you think.
However, it’s not a 2-minute issue, perhaps, or else something about it makes you reluctant to support it as-is.

Using a different extract from the Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes you quickly “map” the solution that’s being proposed … and see that there’s a missing element without which the outcome won’t happen.
That was what your intuition was telling you.

But now you have a basis for talking to the person, showing you’ve clearly understood the solution and what it was supposed to achieve (which is a major compliment in itself to his thinking), and highlighting a reservation that does NOT challenge the person … it identifies an opportunity for strengthening the plan, or the idea.

One outcome might be that they have already thought of the issue, and they have a solution, they simply didn’t mention it. Alternatively they explain why it won’t be a problem because of something they know, that you don’t. Or they agree there’s a hole and come up with a solution. Or they ask for you help in coming up with the solution.

In all of these there’s no heat, no conflict, no compromise, and it becomes “you and me against the problem” rather than “me against you.”

A variation: you review the idea and see that it will indeed create the desired outcome, but … there’s a negative side-effect that you can see will develop either from the plan, or from the success of the plan, perhaps with implications for another department or even for the business as a whole.

The same Theory of Constraints technique provides a mechanism to show that you understand the idea in detail (once again, don’t underestimate the value of just this step … by itself a huge step forward in many companies) … but it then gives you a formal technique to highlight the side-effect that concerns you.
Again, you might find that they know something you don’t that removes the issue; or, they already have a solution in mind but didn’t think to mention it; or, they now come up with a solution or, they ask you to work with them to solve it. All outcomes here are good.

A road map from here to there for improvements Another Theory of Constraints Management Skills technique: some change has to be implemented, some new element has to be put into place … but it’s not at all clear how to get from here to there.

Often the person or team responsible for making it happen can see nothing but obstacles, and no-one is even sure where to start.

This can be demoralizing, and one consequence is often that someone “takes charge” (not bad in itself) and starts giving orders (that’s when the problems start, and the repercussions can literally take years to diminish).

The Theory of Constraints technique known as the Prerequisite Tree actually uses the obstacles to help build stepping-stones through the transition to the new reality.
It’s a superb tool for planning the road-map from here to there, laying out the intermediate stages of the transition, in a way that supports both great communication and cooperation between all involved.

It’s a very powerful team-work tool. It’s a little bit like judo – it uses the strength of the opposition (the obstacles) against the opposition.

One of the beautiful aspects of this technique is that there are ALWAYS people on a team who can see nothing but the obstacles, and they are often considered “negative nellies,” which they defend by stating that they’re just being realistic. Well – with the Theory of Constraints Prerequisite Tree, these people are a golden resource. Here they are welcomed and invited, even compelled, to make sure that every major obstacle is documented up-front.

In the process that follows, Obstacles (the opposition) are transformed from being headaches to being keys to the solution.
Now, this isn’t a tool just for projects associated with the Theory of Constraints implementation. This is a valuable tool for any task where the path from here to there isn’t clear.

You can read more on the Thinking Processes

Or return home: Fast, massive performance improvements