A Guide to Implementing the Theory of
Obtaining Agreement Should Be Easy – Right?
People want to do their very best, we know
that. We also know that we need to
reframe our situation away from a reductionist/local optima approach to a
systemic/global optimum one. In order
to do this we need to seek people’s agreement. If, in the process of doing this, we make
people’s working lives easier and more enjoyable then such agreement should
be forthcoming – right? Unfortunately,
not as right as we might have expected.
Why is this?
Our people will initially be resistant to new
ideas. After all, they are the ones
with the technical expertise, the enthusiasm, the dedication, and the most to
lose in not being able to bring about an improvement. They will have already tried numerous
solutions, got further and further into trouble, and quite reasonably
rationalized that the problem is truly beyond their control.
The more expert, enthusiastic, and dedicated our
people, the worse the problem.
Consider a public health hospital system – populated by some of the
brightest minds around. And what do we
see? Long waiting lists, overcrowding,
and immense levels of frustration. And
what are the reasons? Not enough
funding, our buildings are too old, the population is aging, we can’t afford
to buy the newest equipment, we have a unique demographic in our area,
expectations are rising.
Do you see something in common there? Almost all of these reasons externalized
the problem out of the system. The
problem is caused by something or someone else.
Let’s draw this using our simple departmentalized
We know that there is internal
conflict between departments, we agreed to that earlier on. But when we are faced with an improvement
opportunity the causes of the problems will be verbalized as external to the
system. Basically us on the inside,
versus those on the outside.
It is not just in health of course, health just
happens to be good example because we don’t doubt the skill and dedication of
those directly involved. I have worked
in Japan over a number of years. One
of my surprises there is that group harmony very much depends on how you
define the group. If you define the
group as one foreman’s area then you will find so-called paper walls between
adjoining foremen that would rival and maybe exceed anything we see in the
West – its very thick paper indeed, believe me. When the improvement process is at a
factory scale in this environment, then just as in the West; the sales
department, marketing, vendors, outsourcers, the market, and a whole host of
external reasons are brought to bear.
So not only does expertise and dedication make the matter worse, but
strong group identity also has a similar effect. We need to reframe the situation from;
problems external to the system, to problems internal to the system. In other words we need to obtain agreement
on the nature of the problem (1). We
need to overcome resistance to change (2).
Let’s draw what we are trying to achieve with our
simple departmentalized model. We are
trying to reframe the situation from this,
Back to this again.
Why? Well, we really can’t do very much if the problem
is truly outside of our span of control or sphere of influence. Sure, we rationalized that the problem is
truly outside of the system, but if that is the case what is the chance of
improvement – about zero. I really
think that we should give up now.
You didn’t give up.
Then, let’s carry on. Maybe the
results obtained by Theory of Constraints over the last 20-30 years gives us
a hint that much indeed can be obtained from gaining agreement about the
nature of the problem and rationalizing that the problems are indeed internal
to the system, or at least the problems that we can address are internal to
For the logistical solutions of drum-buffer-rope,
the distribution solution, and Critical Chain project management, there are
computer simulators that are “perfect systems.” All the external influences are removed and
yet we find that it is still difficult to meet our objectives. This type of simulation allows people to
develop the idea that just maybe the real problems are internal to the
system, not external as they had previously assumed.
For the non-logistical solutions of sales,
marketing, and strategy, we must use the current reality tree to build the
intuition that the core problem is indeed internal to the system and within
our span of control. The current
reality tree is more fully described in the Thinking Process section;
however, it is sufficient to say here that the current reality tree helps to
build organizational knowledge about the problem. It does this by showing the possibly
hitherto unrecognized relationships between disparate symptoms experienced by
different people in different parts or the organization at different times –
and it relates it back to deeper underlying causes. It allows us to seek agreement on the underlying
Of course for some people the problem is already
well known. The problem is, as they
see it, the absence of their favorite solution. However, if you look past the verbalization
of “we don’t have….” or “we don’t have enough of …” to the symptoms that the
favored solution is meant to address, then you will be able to incorporate
Obtaining agreement on the nature of the problem may
be viewed as a two part construction, the first part is obtaining agreement about
the magnitude of the problem, relating all the undesirable cause and effects
back towards a core problem or core conflict.
For this we use the current reality tree. The second part is obtaining agreement on
the nature of the core problem or core conflict. For this we use the cloud.
Once we have obtained agreement on the nature of the
problem at hand, then obtaining agreement on the solution to consider should
be simple – right? Oh dear, same
problem again, it’s not as straight forward as we might have hoped.
Why is this?
Maybe it is because the solutions are indeed simple
in concept. We are so used to complex
and expensive solutions that it is hard to believe that any other sort could
exist. Moreover, if such solutions
existed surely we would have been aware of them. Certainly if you look at environments where
these solutions have been successfully implemented it is too easy to surmise
that they must have been quite poorly managed in the first instance in order
to obtain such improvements. People
will verbalize that their situation is different. We know that in fact we each must be
different. Herein lies the crux of the
matter. Later we will break it into
two parts, but for the moment we will consider it as one.
The first part is to gain acceptance that one of two
key changes can brings about substantial improvement in the whole
system. We have already referred to
the concept of leverage points – sometimes leverage points are no more than
ideas, ideas that overcome policy constraints. These key ideas set the direction of the
solution. These key ideas are called
injections. Something new that we
inject into the current undesirable reality that will convert things into a
positive future reality. However this
alone is not enough. Some people will
not immediately see the connection between the direction of the solution and
their part of the system.
In order to show the interconnection we need to
build a future reality tree. A map of
cause and effect out from our key changes towards all of the undesirable
symptoms that we previously incorporated in our current reality tree. Yes we are looking for real leverage
points, a few key changes which will render numerous symptoms null in the
process. Building the future reality
tree allows people to gain agreement on the nature of the solution; both the
direction of the solution, and the interconnectedness of these key changes
and their part in the system.
So, the first part, finding the direction of the solution
is continuing on from the cloud that we will have constructed to obtain
agreement on the nature of the core problem or conflict. Agreeing on the direction of the solution
is “breaking the cloud,” with a new injection. The second part, showing that this high
leverage idea can nullify most undesirable effects is the construction of the
future reality tree.
Sometimes we may not nullify all of the undesirable
effects with our limited number of key changes. We might have to do some smaller local
detailed changes to nullify all of the symptoms – of you like secondary
injections. However, another aspect of
our key changes is that they might in fact give rise to new and unanticipated
negative outcomes. In addition to
obtaining agreement on the solution, we must obtain agreement on overcoming
any additional negative outcomes.
Let’s examine that next.
Although we have obtained agreement on the nature of
the solution, it is likely that as we build our future reality tree some
unanticipated but potential negative outcomes will arise. Are we likely to abandon the solution to
our problem for the sake of some new negative outcomes? Not very likely! Are we likely to accept these new negative
outcomes as undesirable but tolerable?
Not very likely either! So we
have to gain agreement on how to overcome the additional negative
outcomes. This may mean modifying one
of our key changes just slightly (tweaking the solution). It might mean that additional small changes
– more secondary injections – are needed to make sure that the negative
outcomes do not occur.
If you imagine our future reality tree to be a bush,
then these additional negative outcomes are new branches that we don’t
desire. We have to prune them out,
trim them, as early as possible.
Sometimes, when the problem is sufficient to warrant it, we draw this
branch as a separate kind of future reality tree called a negative branch
reservation. Doing so obtains
agreement on overcoming these potential negative outcomes.
Once we have obtained agreement about the problem,
and agreement about the solution, and agreement about overcoming any
potential negative outcomes; then we should be ready to implement the
change. Do you agree? Well, that would be nice; however, it is
not unusual to find at this stage that there are some real obstacles that are
blocking our way. It comes down to
something like “we would really like to but we can’t because ….” O.K. find out what is the reason behind the
“because.” Like our potential negative
outcomes, we must overcome these obstacles as soon as possible or else we
will be unable to proceed.
The tool of choice for gaining agreement on
overcoming obstacles is the pre-requisite tree. So called because for each new idea or
injection that we developed in the steps above, there may be pre-requisites
to their implementation. The
pre-requisites – called intermediate objective – are required to overcome the
obstacles. Of course not all
injections will have obstacles to their implementation, and those ones we can
just get on and do them at the right time.
When is the right time? Firstly we should state and sequence the
obstacles to each individual injection and then seek agreement on the methods
to overcome them. This provides us
with a time phased plan for the implementation for each injection. Then we can arrange and sequence all of our
injections, whether they have pre-requisites to them or not, as a project
plan for the implementation of the new ideas to our problem.
Here is a plan of such an idea.
We have here, 3 injections and 3
intermediate objectives to implement in order for our positive future reality
tree to unfold. Injections 2 and 3
have no pre-requisites and can be done and soon as necessary. Injection 1 has three pre-requisites. The pre-requisites are called intermediate
objectives and overcome previously raised obstacles which we no longer see in
Intermediate objectives A and B can be done in
parallel, but intermediate objective B must be completed before A can
begin. Thus our plan must be;
intermediate objective B, intermediate objectives A & C – leading to
injection 1. Followed by injections 2 &
How to get from our current undesirable effects to a
final plan as shown above is the subject of a step by step introduction to
the Thinking Process which culminates in with this diagram at the end of the
pre-requisite tree section.
Is this overkill?
Well it depends on the situation.
If you have a room of 30 less than enthusiastic people and a perceived
intractable problem, then – properly facilitated – it is ample and sufficient
to gain agreement and move forward. If
you have 5 people and straight forward problem and a high degree of
motivation then just “breaking the cloud” – breaking the dilemma or perceived
conflict that binds people to inaction – may be sufficient to gain agreement
and move forward.
It is also important to point out that even if
agreement is forthcoming, you will often still have to step through this
process to ensure that you have an implementable solution and that you have
left nothing out.
Even when all
of the necessary technical reservations and obstacles have been overcome, an
implementation won't start without sufficient leadership. Leadership comes from knowledge and
understanding of the changes required, and of the measurement and the
communication of the improvement. You
already have the product expertise; you just need to improve the process
When the implementation is under the direction of a
single leader, the president or the owner maybe of a smaller corporate or
larger private company, then we must also address leadership issues. If the implementation is taking place in a larger
corporate environment we need to address collaboration issues. This is so important that we will devote a
whole section to leadership and learning issues after the section on
accounting for change.
There are “… many cases in which people do not
move. Usually, it is because they do
not know how to proceed, and do not feel comfortable about asking for more
detailed directions.” “People may not
raise their real concerns … and some personal obstacles may catch up with us…
What seems to
be clear is that the better the job done on obtaining alignment early on,
especially with corporate strategy, the less that needs to be done on
leadership at this later stage. In corporate environments where there is a
professional management and no owner directly involved then Goldratt’s holistic
approach using his self-learning program CD-ROMs is
designed to obtain the alignment of the leadership from the outset. Use it!
environments such as a private company where an owner is involved or where
individual managers have problems, then Oded Cohen has produced a methodology
to explore some of the issues within “unverbalized fear (4).” Many times the “weakness” that blocks an
individual from going forward turns out to be their greatest strength. Understand how to use this method!
The preceding discussion has really been a summary
of the so-called 5 layers of resistance first verbalized by Goldratt in My Saga (2). Although
they seem to be well known and understood amongst practitioners, there is
little published about the concept. We
can generalize the 5 layers as follows;
(1) We don't
agree about the problem.
(2) We don't
agree about the solution.
(3) We can see
additional negative outcomes.
(4) We can see
(5) We doubt
the collaboration of others.
Many people can relate to this simple hierarchy
almost immediately, especially if you consider some of the ways that we
verbalize these steps (1, 2);
(1) “You don’t understand, it’s
actually …..” or “it’s out of our hands”
(2) “You don’t understand, we are
(3) “yes, BUT
…..” Small yes, big but. “Yes, but there are side effects.”
(4) “YES, but …..” Big yes, small but. “Yes, but it will never happen here.”
(5) “So and so will never agree” or
saying “Yes” and then doing nothing.
Previously we discussed the notion that people want
to do the very best. How come then
that they are resistant? Why does
change give rise to emotional resistance?
Because people respond to their map of reality rather than reality
itself. So let’s reframe the
discussion for a moment.
If people want to do their best and to respond to
their map of reality – then aren’t we trying to help them to stand outside of
their map reality for a moment and to observe it in a detached and objective
manner from a different perspective (maybe reality itself)? So let’s reframe the 5 layers of resistance
using instead the language of agreement – as indeed we did above. We are really searching for sequential
layers of agreement (1). Here is such
a verbalization for 6 layers.
(1) Agreement on the problem.
(2) Agreement on the direction of the solution.
(3) Agreement that the solution will yield the desired results.
(4) Agreement that no
disastrous side effects will occur.
(5) Agreement on the implementation requirements and plan
(6) Agreement by all key
collaborators that they can move forward with confidence.
Subtle distinction – maybe. But think about it; our people resist – we
push. So we must at times rephrase
things; our people seek agreement – we must pull them towards that agreement.
Let’s look at this from another perspective; “Problems exist because people believe they exist. If there were no people there would be no
problems. People are also the ones who
decide that a problem has been solved.
Problem solving is the most typical human behavior.” (5)
Whoa! How did
we suddenly come up with 6 layers?
Well, you know people – always seeking to sort and classify. And therefore the original 5 layers of
resistance have been re-verbalized and subdivided into 6 or even 9 stages by
a number of people. Is it important to
know these other verbalizations in any detail? Well, people who are involved in
facilitating an implementation should be aware of them.
These newer verbalizations have arisen because
various people have seen a greater richness and subtlety than the original
verbalization first suggests. However,
will keep an examination of these limited to another page. If you have experience with using the 5
layers of resistance then have a look at more layers for; further discussion, a table
of comparisons, and a mapping onto the tools of the Thinking Process. For the rest of us, we will bring back from
this page a more generalized composite verbalization which is modified to
accommodate some of the improvements while still retaining the original 5
layers. Let’s have a look at this.
This is my attempt to synthesize parts of a number
of different layers from a number of different authors into one composite 5
layer verbalization. It is driven by a
subtle and important subdivision in layers 1 & 2, the significance of
which I hope will become more apparent in our discussion of clouds later on,
and extends into the discussion on the OODA loop, strategy, and paradigms.
Let’s have a look at the composite verbalization.
(1) We don’t
agree about the extent or nature of the
(2) We don’t
agree about the direction or
completeness of the solution.
(3) We can see
additional negative outcomes.
(4) We can see
(5) We doubt
the collaboration of others.
Hidden in the words “extent” and “completeness” are
aspects of the detail complexity of the problem
and detail complexity of the
solution. Hidden in the words “nature”
and “direction” are aspects of the dynamic
complexity of the problem and the dynamic
complexity of the solution. We will
examine these aspects more fully on other pages.
Now, however, we find that we have reverted to the
language of resistance. Which one are
we going to use; resistance or agreement?
Well, I think resistance is natural, and for people wishing to implement
Theory of Constraints applications it is most important to listen to the natural
verbalizations of resistance while guiding people towards agreement. Therefore it is the language of resistance
that we will continue to use here.
However, if it is necessary to present this sequence to others, then
we should consider using the language of agreement.
Well I think so.
Consider, for instance, the usual situation where someone is at the
3rd level and can see a real plausible negative outcome. Often times, that person would be viewed by
colleagues as being negative, and yet that person is offering a unique
insight into the situation-specific implementation that you are
undertaking. So rather than viewing
the reservation as a negative comment to be overcome as quickly as possible,
we should consider it a positive comment to be explored and fully exploited
for its potential.
It is important to hear and to recognize the various
verbalizations of the various layers (distinguishing them from “excuses”) and
to accept rather than argue with them.
Different people with different intuitions will be at different levels
to each other. Moreover, different
people with different perspectives will “buy-in” to the proposed solution at
different levels and at different times.
It is important, however, that once someone has bought-in to the idea,
the remaining steps are still worked through.
Peoples’ thought processes are also massively parallel so don’t be
surprised to find people entertaining different parts of different layers at
the same time. The layers of
resistance is a useful tool for problem solving, not a classification of how
Three things occur when a reservation at any level
is offered and accepted and acted upon.
The solution becomes more robust (it will work even better), the
solution starts to become our people’s solution and not anyone else’s, and
the rapport between staff and everyone else is strengthened.
You must actively solicit people’s reservations at
each level so that they can be addressed.
How do you distinguish between a “yes but” and a
genuine excuse? Almost always someone,
especially the person who raised the reservation, will want to provide the
solution to overcome it. In this
situation often it is necessary to write the reservations down on a white
board as they are verbalized and leave them for a while otherwise in the
haste to solve them the group loses sight of the bigger picture. However, when excuses are being provided
there will be lack of interest in solving them, and you are very likely to
find yourself “chasing your tail” as you try to focus and solve any
particular excuse. The danger of a
solved excuse will be avoided by trying to change the focus to another excuse
before the previous one is solved.
facilitate this process, be aware of your own potential for frustration, and
also the potential for some people to race ahead of others as they discover
the solution. In connection with this
aspect Goldratt makes a case for two levels of frustration (6). The first level is;
“When we are under pressure for all sides, everybody is on our back,
and we are constantly fighting fires... and we don't know what to do.”
This is consistent with our observations of local
optimization – everyone experiences this.
In terms of the pre-suppositions it is consistent with the observation
that all behavior has positive intent,
and that people make the best decision they can at the time.
The second and much higher level of frustration is;
“When we are under pressure from all sides,
everybody is on our back, we are constantly fighting fires... and we know
exactly what to do. But the [.....]
don't want to listen!”
Ah, do you see how this is consistent with the
pre-supposition that people respond
to their map of reality and not reality itself. Or more correctly, do you see what happens
when someone’s intuition about local and global optimization is confirmed by
an understanding of Theory of Constraints.
That persons map of reality changes (much closer to actual reality I
would contend), while colleagues are left with their earlier and different
map of reality.
In order to
succeed we must lift our colleagues up from their current map of reality
(local optimization) to a newer reality (global optimization). Don’t let your own impatience over-ride
their need to take things one step at a time.
Don’t let people who do see the solution criticize those that don’t
yet see the solution.
We have a measurements system.
We have a focusing system for locating constraints. We have a mechanism or approach to
overcoming resistance. It seems that
there is nothing to stop us now, except, possibly, leadership.
Um, how about
“There is one
function that can, at almost any given point in time, block any other
function…. Finance (7).”
Well, we were
going to look at leadership next; however, I think that we had better take a
look at accounting for change first.
Let’s do that.
I have mostly
stuck with the description “layers of resistance.” It’s no great discovery, however, that as
soon as we mention “layers of resistance” we give ourselves permission for
resistance even though that thought may have been furthermost from our
minds. That is exactly what the
alternative expressions of “layers of buy-in” and “layers of agreement” seek
to me “buy-in” sounds manipulative – in a negative sense; so I don’t
particularly wish to use that terminology.
Instead I want to suggest that “layers of resistance” might
constructively be called “degrees of acceptance”
(even though it is consistently called layers of resistance throughout the
remainder of this website). Just one
more way to make implementation easier.
Try it, see if it works.
resistance for a moment – or perhaps I should say insufficient acceptance, we
have the following extracted from another field;
There are no resistant clients, only inflexible
OK, so I
changed the wording a little. I want
to suggest here that insufficient acceptance, especially the last layer, is
caused not by the client but rather that it is caused by us! As soon as we allow for that assumption the
matter becomes wholly more manageable.
We must work way ahead of the last layer, layers 5 or 6, to ensure
that they do not occur. And this is
not a problem unique to our area of expertise – it is common to all people
who are dealing with people.
(1) Smith C.,
In: Smith, D., (2000) The measurement nightmare: how the theory of
constraints can resolve conflicting strategies, policies, and measures. St. Lucie Press, pg 157-159.
E. M., (1996) My saga to improve production.
Avraham Y. Goldratt Institute, 7 pp.
D., and Cohen, O., (1999) Deming and Goldratt: the theory of constraints and
the system of profound knowledge. The
North River Press, pg 87.
(4) Cohen, O.,
(1997) Overcoming the 5th Layer of Resistance. Video JSA-13, Goldratt
T., (2001) Human-centered problem-solving: the management of
improvements. Asian Productivity
Organization, pg 193.
E. M., (1996) Production the TOC way. Tutor Guide. Avraham Y. Goldratt Institute, pg 15.
E. M., (1990) What is this thing called Theory of Constraints and how should
it be implemented? North River Press,
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