‘Avoid inertia. Start again.’ Those were Goldratt’s exact words for the final focusing step. Once you’ve made an investment of money, time and effort, the constraint will move. Ideally, you’ll find it where you intended.
[ Listen to audio version, read by David Hodes]
Let’s say you applied the 5-Step FOCUS and the constraint was in supply. If your ‘uplift’ step was to invest in new sources, the constraint may then move to production. If you’ve invested in production resources, you may now be seeking additional markets for your goods and services. And, if your uplift step was to invest in your marketing and sales, you may find you now have to effectively marshall your resources to accommodate the step-change increase in demand.
But there’s something vital missing if all we consider when contemplating the final step (‘S’ for ‘start again’) is to think about the logic of load and capacity as applied to the buying, making or selling functions. People are not widgets, and they need renewal as much as any process might need modernising. It’s exhausting bringing a significant investment to the finish line. But, in truth, that line is only the starting point for the new business dynamics.
You may have considered all the major elements of organisational change management carefully. You may have acted on the job readiness reviews and completed both structural change and system and process training. You may have aligned the workforce within an effective accountability hierarchy and developed their competency to manage the new technology and processes. You may even have developed a communications plan and some expertise in change leadership.
These are all important and necessary steps. But do they create a sufficiency for the sustained success of your enterprise? There is no guarantee that the uplift investment will work. How can we give it as good a chance of doing so as reasonable and possible? What else might mitigate the risk associated with transforming an idea into an innovation capable of delivering a return commensurate with the resources marshalled to make that transformation happen?
A fundamental part of the ‘start again’ step is to think about renewal. Once, while watching a lecture by Joseph Campbell, I was taken by a metaphor he used. He told us that life is a force that is in and of itself regenerative—you cut the lawn, and it doesn’t fall over and say ‘enough is enough’. I agree with Campbell that we humans are similarly inclined. Like the lawn, we need nourishment from the ground of our being. The more cycles we go through of the 5-Step FOCUS, the more depleted the soil becomes, and the greater the need for renewal. It fits the system archetype of limits to growth. For every growth cycle, we must pay attention to what forces are limiting that growth.
Fundamental to the process of renewal is the story we tell ourselves about why we do what we do. Every religion, country and organisation has a founding story, or myth. We know of Adam and Eve and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Captain Cook and his voyages to the Antipodes, and the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service as the beginnings of QANTAS.
It may be the case, as in Proverbs 29:18, that ‘without vision, the people perish’. But it is equally true that if we have no narrative about where we came from, no tales of the derring-do of our founders and heroes, no accounting of the epic battles we joined to grow and prosper, then all the technology investment and process improvement in the world will be unable to inspire people beyond perfunctory performance.
“You cut the lawn, and it doesn’t
fall over and say ‘enough is enough’.”
Since all improvement requires change, but not all change is an improvement, you can be sure that within your organisation, many will be sceptical of your ‘uplift’ initiative. Some will be outright cynical. A powerful antidote to cynicism is a compelling story that inspires people to act with a sense of purpose transcendent of the locus of self. The narrative should invite them to dwell in the profundity of the questions: ‘How can I serve the greater whole? What does the universe call on me to do? If not me, who? If not now, when?’
If we are to live a life filled with meaning, we must fully embrace the responsibility of lifting our full share of the burden of bringing into being the future in which we wish to live. The implication is that if the story is good, beautiful and true, we will have the means to sustain ourselves through the inevitable dips associated with bringing something new into the world.
In his book The Dance of Change, a ten-year retrospective on his endeavours to introduce into the world of business ideas about Learning Organisations, Peter Senge noted the following factors limiting the adoption of the principles contained in his seminal book The Fifth Discipline.
• There’s not enough time.
• There’s not enough money.
• There’s not enough help, and we don’t know what we’re doing.
• It’s irrelevant.
• The leadership is not walking the talk, so why should I?
• I’m not sure if I’m able.
• Can these people be trusted?
• Can I trust myself?
• Why is it taking so long?
• I don’t want to be part of a new religion.
• What they’re doing is a complete mystery to me, and I’m anxious about showing my ignorance.
• Who’s in charge?
How do you overcome these limiting factors? How do you sustainably embed and develop mastery of the new technology and processes in your organisation? Through the power of the story you tell, which itself is amplified by the grandeur of your vision. Fail here and your efforts will likely produce ‘just a transaction system’. It is doubtful there will be any motivation towards process discipline, which in turn will result in poor data quality. The limitations on the data will hinder the ability to make sense of the local and global situation, resulting in customised fixes and symptomatic workarounds. Generating sustained outcomes is achieved through the plaiting together of grand vision and remarkable operating discipline.
In Built to Last, Jerry Porras and Jim Collins characterise ‘truly great companies’ as those that ‘understand the difference between what should never change and what should be open for change; between what is genuinely sacred and what is not’. This idea gets to the heart of what a genuine culture is all about. The balancing act of managing this change while maintaining continuity takes, they say, a rare ability ‘requiring a consciously practised discipline—closely linked to the ability to develop a vision’.
We have now reached the end of our deeper exploration through the 5-Step FOCUS. In thinking through this cornerstone component of the Theory of Constraints, I hope that I leave you with the sentiment of ‘Start Again’ best expressed by TS Eliot: ‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’.
This is Part 6 of our series on The 5-Step FOCUS.
Part 1: Identifying the System
Part 2: Nominating the Goal
Part 3: Find the Constraint
Part 4: Optimise the Constraint
Part 5: Collaborate Around the Constraint
Part 6: Uplift system performance
Part 7: Start again
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