A Guide to Implementing the Theory of
To Do Our Very Best
We now know
how some of the mismeasure, frustration, and sometimes despair arises as we
try to manage that relatively recent invention; the serial process – the
manufacturing process. We recognize,
often intuitively, that we are trying to optimize according to some
reductionist/local optima approach but that we are actually bound by the
process dependency and variation of our system. But what does it mean to optimize? Surely this means to do our very best. In fact, for everyone to do their very
Doing our best
is such an important concept in process improvement that we will deal with it
in detail in this section. Therefore,
this section is really about people.
Let’s start once again with our simple departmentalize model, this is
most likely to reflect the reality of most people and most systems at the
start of an improvement process.
Now ask yourself; where are the most likely areas for conflict in this
system. Are they within departments or
between departments? Sure, we seem to
understand frustration within our own departments, and between our own actions
and our own measures, but conflict seems to be reserved most often for the
interface between departments.
department it seems that we have sufficient control to try and achieve the
results that we desire, we might call this a span of control or a sphere of
influence (1). At the interface
between departments the control passes from one group or manager to another,
we lose direct control and another takes it up. We could call these interfaces transfer
points (2). Let’s add this to our diagram.
Still, just passing control can’t be reason enough for conflict. So why is there conflict?
might be something like; “well we certainly try to do our best, but some of
those other people in that other department, well, we’re not so sure about
Oops, I think
that it is time for a reality check.
Try one day to
ask a diverse group of people; people from more than one department or people
from more than one organization, if there is anyone present in that group who
leaves home in the morning with the intent of not doing a good job. Of course no one would admit to such a
thing openly. But watch the look of
indignation on peoples’ faces that you should have even have asked such a
question. This is the proof that
people do intend to do a good job.
Sure, everyone knows someone else who doesn’t want to do a good job,
but no matter how many times you repeat this experiment you won’t find that
someone. You will be left with the
inescapable conclusion that indeed everyone does want to do a good job. In fact, their best.
We need to
add, of course, that whether everyone wants to do a good job and whether
everyone actually does a good job is another matter. Whether someone doesn’t do a good job might
not be a matter of competence for instance, it might be a matter of
alignment, or focus, or one of a number of other things.
So I think we
can safely say that everyone wants to do
their best, according to their current view of what is best. And maybe those words; “according to their
current view of what is best” are more telling than we suspect. Nevertheless, it would appear that the
conflict that occurs at transfer points is not due to one group or manager
doing well and another group or manager doing less well; it is because both
groups are doing their very best according to their map of reality.
arises not because people are failing to do their best, but because everyone is
doing their best.
It is the map
of reality that we need to look at in order to understand why there is
conflict. But, first, let’s have a
look at some pre-suppositions that are useful to know.
It is useful
to keep in mind some pre-suppositions about human behavior when considering
improvement initiatives (3, 4). In any
improvement initiative we are going to come up against situations where it appears
that the initiative is not being supported.
When that happens we need to run these pre-suppositions past our minds
as a test against the situation.
(1) All behavior has positive intent.
(2) People make the best decision they
can at the time.
(3) People respond to their map of reality and not reality itself.
(4) There is no failure, only feedback.
This will help
us to reframe the problem so as to see it from the viewpoint of the people
who appear not to support the initiative.
Their behavior will be positive from their viewpoint, even if it
doesn’t’ appear positive from our viewpoint or the viewpoint of the
system. If we can develop an
understanding of their viewpoint and thus their map of reality then we are in
a much better position to do something about it. Always ensure that there is adequate
feedback. Management who perceive a
problem but fail to provide the necessary feedback to staff rob the staff of
the opportunity for self-improvement.
Let’s expand on the concept of feedback for a
moment. Margaret Wheatley has
characterized feedback in the following terms (5). Feedback is self-generated, an individual
or system notices whatever they determine is important for them and they
ignore everything else. Feedback
depends upon the context, the critical information is being generated right
now, failing to notice the "now," or staying stuck in past
assumptions, is very dangerous.
Feedback changes; what an individual or system chooses to notice will
change depending on the past, the present, and the future. New and surprising information can get in,
the boundaries are permeable. Finally,
feedback is life-sustaining, it provides essential information about how to
maintain one's existence, it also indicates when
adaptation and growth are necessary.
Measurements provide a formal but
localized feedback loop that may directly contradict our informal feedback
loop – what we see and what we know is happening but which is not
measured. However, there is a strong
risk of a “closed circuit” here. If
our map of reality is strongly reductionist/local optima, and so too are our
measurements, and thus also our formal feedback; then it is quite possible
that we won’t notice any disjoint between the formal and informal measures
until it is quite explicit. We won’t
notice until it is blindingly obvious and even then, maybe not. But people outside of the system will
notice the disjoint however because they are not bound to the same
assumptions. To break this closed
circuit we need to reframe the map of reality first, and then the
the best decision they can at the time according to their map of
reality. For most people their map of
reality in their work environment is a reductionist/local optima one.
How do we know
this? Think back to your response to
the first diagram of our simple system when it was presented in the
introduction. It looked like this.
That this diagram didn’t produce howls of concern indicates that for
most people it is a pretty fair representation of reality. This is a model of the reductionist/local
optima approach. In fact we are quite
used to seeing our world subdivided like this.
If our own map
of reality was different, then many people would have been searching
initially for something maybe more like the following view.
This is a systemic/global optimum view. This is not to say that such a view or map
isn’t possible, it’s just that for the majority of us, given our experience
and dare I say it – our training, this isn’t the first thing that enters our
If we can be
sure that people strive to do their very best within their department, within
their group, if we can be sure that workers concentrate equally on everything
everywhere within their area, and that managers concentrate on everything in
all of the departments under their control, then perhaps there is a very real
danger that we only know how to locally optimize? Perhaps there is a very real danger that we
can’t see or think in systemic/global optimum terms? Let’s investigate this thought a little
optimization contrary to human nature?
Well, let’s test it. Let’s
return to our departmentalized version of our simple system, and let’s add
some responsibility or spans of control to it. Our basic level is that of a foreman, as we
might expect in a traditionally structured manufacturing organization. However, we could call them team leaders,
charge nurses, or whatever else is relevant.
As shown earlier there is a transfer point between each span of
Now consider, for example, someone whose span of control, or sphere of
influence, extends beyond one department or section or company. It’s more likely that person will see “a
bigger picture” than other people.
That person’s local optimization across their span of control is far
more likely to approach the global optimization of the system. The larger the span the closer the
potential for the local optimization to approach the global optimization.
this concept using our simple model of a system. Let’s draw in two supervisors where we
previously had 4 foremen. The 4
foremen report to two supervisors. The
number of transfer points drops as the span of responsibility grows.
Cynics would point out that “most bottlenecks are at the top”. However, this is unfair. People at the top usually can’t help but
see the global issues of the system.
So let’s modify our diagram to reflect this reality. Now we have one manager whose span of
control replaces the two supervisors who report to him.
Actually we need to modify this view the system as it is in reality –
a system with one weakest link. A
system that looks more like this.
So, let’s repeat. The people at
the top usually can’t help but to see the systemic/global optimum view.
So we need to
ask where, then, are they being let down?
Are they let
down by their subordinates? I don’t
think so. Well then, are they being
let down by their performance measurement system? In part, the answer to that must be
yes. In fact, we have seen already
that this is the case. We are trying
to understand the global issues while relying upon using local performance
measures – legacy performance measures from our reductionist/local optima
approach of the last several centuries past.
We can see the whole system and then we insist on breaking it apart
into sub-units again. Let’s draw what
Imagine the subordinates’ point of view then; there should be no
reason why they too, cannot form a systemic view except for the imposition of
a legacy measurement system from the top down. After all;” Tell me how you will measure
me, and I will tell you how I will behave.
If you measure me in an illogical way… do not complain about illogical
behavior (6).” So if you measure me locally
then that is how I will behave.
optimization isn’t contrary to human nature, we naturally form a
systemic/global optimum view when our span of control allows us, but we are
hampered by the trap of reductionist/local optima performance measures. We need to apply our new measurement
process to the whole system. Let’s
We need to feed back into the system the global outputs of the system
in order to know what actions to take locally. However, local feedback into local actions
was only part of the problem and so global feedback into local actions can
only be a part of the solution.
Replacing the legacy reductionist/local optima performance measures
with our new systemic/global optimum measurements – our fundamental
measurements – is necessary but it is not sufficient. After all we have already deduced a
consistent and logical measurement system, so why then haven’t we applied
it? Let’s have a look. Let’s look for the solution to the
remainder of this problem.
In the absence
of a measurement system to support a systemic/global optimum view, most
people in a process will locally optimize – its human nature – the belief
that if everyone does his best, the net result will be the sum of all of
those efforts. In fact; “Companies who believe they have
avoided the pitfalls of performance measurement systems because they do not
have a formal system are in the worst case situation. Everyone in the organization is defining
what a good job is from their local viewpoint of what good performance is
Previously we learnt to define; the system, the
goal, the necessary conditions, the fundamental operational measures, and the
role of the constraint. But what we
haven’t done yet is learn how to focus on
the constraints – and we need to do that in order to determine
what a good job is locally – this is the other part of the
solution to the problem. It is
insufficient to evaluate local actions in term of global feedback unless we
know what it means to do our best locally for the system as a whole. And as we have already learnt, “The key to
know what to do locally is the realization of the role the system constraints
are playing (8).” It is an absence of knowledge of a focusing system that hampers us at
present from implementing a systemic/global optimum approach. We will examine how to focus on the
constraints in the next page on the process of change.
In fact, once we know the role of the constraints,
and we can operate under a systemic/global optimum view, then we will be able
to remove the conflict that occurs at the transfer points between spans of
control. People being people will
still do their best, but now they will know for every area what that “best”
is for the system as a whole, rather than for their area under the former
assumption of an isolated and independent part. Again we will deal with this in detail in
the next page on process of change.
But did you
note something more important?
previous example, although the people at the top formed a systemic/global
optimum view, nothing really changed – they really just applied their local
view to a broader canvas. That brings
us to a very important point, “all change – both individual and
organizational – requires a change in the meaning that the system is enacting
(9).” So, in effect, it is only a
change in meaning, a change in world view, a change in our map of
reality. The people at the top didn’t
abandon local optimization. It’s just
that their span of control or sphere of influence grew sufficiently their
“local” was everyone else’s “global.”
Now, if the
people at the top can do that; why can’t anyone and everyone else. We have to replace the current map of
reality that says “I am my department,” to something like “I am a significant
part of the whole process.” Where
everyone has been let down in the past from making this transition was
firstly the absence of a systemic approach to measurements. We have that now. All that remains then is just to know where
the constraint is in order to evaluate our local actions according to these
There can be no conflict in nature. "There
must be an erroneous assumption that we make about reality that causes a
conflict to exist (10)." If we have
conflict at transfer points then there is an erroneous assumption somewhere
(a common but erroneous map of reality).
What is the
erroneous assumption? If we cast our
minds back to our simple model as it was first presented in the measurements
section we highlighted that the workflow wasn’t at all independent as we
might have first assumed. In fact, we
know that the workflow contains multiple dependencies and also
variability. To some extent we might
try to decouple the dependencies by buffers of work-in-process – buffers
everywhere. But we already know the
cost of that. Lead times become too
long and there always seems to be some more urgent work that finds its way
around those carefully built buffers – and sitting in those buffers takes so
long that lot’s of work becomes urgent in any case. However, the dependency is just as great
within individual departments as it is between different departments, so this
can’t be the cause of conflict at transfer points. Dependency doesn’t seem to be the source of
our erroneous assumption.
Maybe it is
variability then. We only need to look
at the success of total quality management (TQM) and total productive
maintenance (TPM) to see that reducing variability – both quality and process
variability – makes plants run much smoother, and produce much better
products too. However I have worked in
world-class precision manufacturing plants with TPM, ISO 9000, and ISO 14000,
and the conflict is still there and it starts right about where one foreman’s
area finishes and another’s starts.
So, enticing though the thought is; variability does not seem to be
the source of our erroneous assumption either.
In fact, to
understand the source of our erroneous assumption, and therefore conflict, we
must wait for the next section on process of change. But it was necessary here to clarify that
even though serial processes are characterized by dependency and variation,
these are not the cause of our conflict.
So, if leaders naturally see the broader system-wide
picture, why then do most of them, still resort to using local measures? The answer is that there hasn’t been until
recently a coherent methodology that would allow people to use global
measures. We saw that coherent
methodology as a summary to the last section.
Let’s repeat it here.
(1) Define the system.
(2) Define the goal
of the system.
(3) Define the necessary
(4) Define the fundamental
(5) Define the role of the constraint(s).
If you like, we have seen how most of these pieces
fall into place. Sure, just-in-time is
a system-wide approach and has been around for quite a while. But its applicability has been largely
limited to large scale repetitive processing (autos and consumer
electronics). It certainly didn’t
address the measurements issue. Contribution
margin analysis did address the measurements issue and has been around for
quite a while too, but it doesn’t seek to identify the role of the
constraints. So we seem to have always
had bits and pieces, but not all the right bits and pieces in the same place
at the same time.
In fact, we have yet to address here the last step
of the methodology – the role of the constraints. We will do that in the next section –
process of change. If leaders have a system-wide
view and have sufficient systemic support from the fundamental measurements
and awareness of the role of the constraints, then what is there to stop us
from reframing the role of managers – and everyone else – from a
reductionist/local optima approach to a systemic/global optimum approach? I think that the answer is there is nothing
to stop this whatsoever.