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Unconstrained Thinking
-- A Route to Roots

You may have noticed a couple of themes in these columns. I advise keeping things simple by limiting attention to a critical few items, and avoiding unproductive distractions. This means focusing on weak links and the root causes that perpetuate them. Identifying weak links is usually pretty easy. It's rooting out their causes that take a bit of thinking. This column suggests a bit of a how-to for this effort.

There is one thing, however, that characterizes many tough issues. They can be defined most clearly by the conflicts or dilemmas that they put us into. If you have difficulty extricating yourself from such a tough spot, make a list the major symptoms related to it that you would like to be free of. Then define each of these symptoms in terms of the dilemma or conflict they put you in.

At this point, you could attack each symptom by delving deeper into why its individual dilemma seems insurmountable. Tools like the classic "Five Whys" or, even better, the TOC thinking process conflict diagram (known as the Evaporating Cloud) can help this analysis. But the different symptomatic solutions may not play well together, or lead to new conflicts. More likely, there may be some deeper core conflict that, if missed, will re-infect the locally improved system.

So before attacking the individual dilemmas, step back a bit and look at them together. The various objectives, the requirements needed by the objectives, and conflicting approaches to satisfy the requirements will usually have some similarity associated with them. (Again, the common structure of the TOC conflict cloud is handy here.) If there are commonalities among the conflicts, maybe there is a common core conflict that can encompass them all.

Identify that core conflict and attack its perpetuating assumptions; then use its solution to align the individual solutions into a coherent strategy.

Like I said, keep it simple -- by focusing on the real root causes, i.e., the assumptions that perpetuate the core conflict and drive erroneous responses throughout the system in question.

What are your real conflicts?

Think about it . . .

©2002, Frank Patrick

An undefined problem has an infinite number of solutions. - Robert A. Humphrey

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, PMI, 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:

Clear Focus Planning - A Leadership Workshop for Building Your Future - A fast and effective process to align your efforts for success.

Unconstrained Thinking - If You Fail to Plan... - You know what you can plan on.

Avoiding Disappointment in Improvement Programs - Don't do programs! Turn your management efforts into a process for aligned, on-going improvement.

Small Business Strategy - Think you're too small for strategic planning and structured problem solving? Think again!

Unconstrainted Thinking - Strategy for the Masses - It's easier, and can be quicker, than you might think.

The Strategic Constraint and (local) Department Goals

TQM and Constraints

Unconstrained Thinking Index

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