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Unconstrained Thinking
— (Bench)Marking Time

Two things come to mind when I hear the phrase “marking time.” One is a marching band marching in place, lifting legs in impressive high-stepping motion, but moving not one yard down the field. The other is a prisoner stuck in his cell, marking his wasted days on the wall. Neither of them accomplishes much.

The three questions of management are:

1. What to change?

2. To what to change to?

3. How to make the change happen?

Too often, it’s easy to forget the first question. Someone sees someone else doing something neat (through perhaps a benchmarking analysis or through reading an article or an email), and decides it would be neat to be able to do the same thing in their organization. That's jumping to the second question. But if you don’t address the first question first, how do you know if you are really accomplishing anything?

Any complex system is limited by one, or at most very few, aspects of that system, in trying to achieve more of its goal. That constraint must be the focus of any improvement effort if it is expected to significantly "improve" the system in terms of that goal. What to change can't be driven by external benchmarking influences. The constraint is the source of performance. Address it and the system will improve.

Benchmarking may be useful to open minds on what is possible and therefore help to break out of constraining paradigms, but it can also be done (and probably done quicker) by using clear common sense logic to tap the intuition of those familiar with the system.

Focus on improvement through your constraint — (and as a freind of mine once said) not on comparisons to others, to a standard, or to some purported "best practice". Improve continuously — and let others worry about how they compare to you.

©2000, Frank Patrick

The best focus, is to focus on improvement -- not on comparison to others, a standard, or some alleged "best practice". Improve, continuously -- and let the others worry about how they compare to you. Most organizations spend way too much time and effort on standards, benchmarking, maturity, best practice this and that -- and far too little time actually improving. - Richard Zultner

This is one of a series of columns on improvement, TOC, constraint management, change management, systems thinking, uncommon sense, and whatever else comes into my mind. Suggestions for topics are welcome. - FP, 908-874-8664 or via the contact page of this site.

If you are interested in using these 1/2-page columns for your APICS, ASQ, or IIE newsletter, let me know through the same channels, and I'll send you the more easily usable MS Word versions.

-- Frank Patrick

Related links:

Unconstrained Thinking Index

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