In order to make significant improvements in the sales process, we need a method that will help us to identify what we want to change, the new reality we want to create, and the actions we must take to get there. Eli Goldratt worked with his close associates to develop a set of thinking processes to accomplish these goals.
Lisa Scheinkopf explains that the Thinking Processes are vital when we shift our attention from removing constraints in manufacturing where everything is visible to removing constraints in other departments (like sales) where everything is invisible.
The problems in manufacturing tend to be masked by something you can see, inventory. When every station in a manufacturing plant optimizes on its productivity and quality, inventory builds up everywhere, costs explode, and the root causes of the problem remain hidden. However, when a manufacturing plant identifies the constraint and forces all other stations to subordinate to the constraint, two things happen. First, inventory levels fall because only the constrained station works at full capacity. Second, as production improves at the constrained station, production overall in the plant improves.
These changes are visible to everyone.
However, when we move out of manufacturing into other departments, the deeper constraints in policy (rules) and paradigms (beliefs) are masked by a something much less visible than inventory. When the sequences of activity that cause work to be done in other departments do not run smoothly, people find it challenging to identify the constraint. They simply know that there are problems and that those problems prevent the work from getting done.
To improve the workflow in these departments, we must look under these piles of problems to reveal the underlying policy and paradigm constraints in the organization.
Finding these policy and paradigm constraints is hard work.
How can people make improvements in their department if they don’t have a process to reveal the constraints in their organization, especially the difficult constraints related to policy and paradigms?
Often we don’t know if the change we want to make will improve the situation. How do we know if the change will solve the problem?
We need a systematic way to think about these problem in order to make improvements.
A few of the pioneers in the Theory of Constraints movement developed a thinking process to help people answer three critical questions about constraints:
- What to change?
- To what to change?
- How to cause the change?
Let’s look at these three questions one by one.
What to change? Understand the current reality.
Improvement is most likely in manufacturing when we focus on the system’s physical constraint. Does the same hold true for policy and paradigm constraints?
Think about your organization. How many stupid policies does it have? If you made a list of them, how would you know which ones to change? The ones that get the most complaints? The ones that are easiest to fix?
Is there a process that can help you identify non-physical, weak links in your processes—in your rules and beliefs—that if you made a change you would see dramatic improvement? What is that process?
People have already developed many processes to prioritize improvement projects. Some of them are analytical—root cause analysis, cause-effect relationships, and apply weighting factors to prioritize them. Other processes rely more on intuition.
Neither of these approaches is sufficient on their own. We need a process that combines analysis and intuition. When we can verbalize our intuitions and feelings, then rigorously test our assumptions, we can better see the patterns of our current reality. With this clarity of vision we can then see the leverage points in our systems. Visibility into those leverage points tells where to inject changes, changes which will lead to dramatic improvement.
To what to change? Construct a picture of a future reality.
Once you find a policy that presents a real constraint on the possibility of improving the work of your organization, what do you do, where do you go?
Before you take an action or make any plans, your first step is to discover what you want the new reality to look like.
If you implement a new reality, how will it feel?
Your current reality consists of a set of patterns. If you change to a new reality, what new patterns do you want to put in place?
You’ve probably had the experience where a new solution was put in place and then simply created additional new problems. Or didn’t achieve the results that everyone expected.
Is there a way to avoid this outcome?
Eli Goldratt wanted to develop a process that would enable people to select a solution to a core problem and be confident that the solution would indeed eliminate the problem.
Further, he wanted a process that people could use to identify possible unintended consequences of a potential solution and prevent those consequences.
His Thinking Processes were developed to give us a systematic way to create a picture a new reality.
His method made it possible for us discover what we want the future reality to be, to know why we want to do it that way, and to sidestep unintended consequences along the way.
How to cause the change? Close the gap between present and future.
When you understand your current reality, you can decide what to change.
Next you can construct how the future reality should look.
Finally, you have to close the gap between present and future.
Often we are tempted to jump into action before we consider what we want to accomplish.
How do we know if a specific action will lead to the result we want?
Succumbing to this temptation can lead us to work hard and yet see no significant improvement.
Goldratt and his team developed the Thinking Processes to help us discover the major obstacles between our current reality and the future reality we want to construct.
The Thinking Processes enable us to explain why those obstacles are preventing progress. They help us to define the actions required to remove the obstacles. And finally, they guide us to establish the order in which we should take action.