Events Almost Daily Web Log What's new?
Services Miscellany Questions? Comments?

Strategy & Alignment Operational Problem Solving Project Management Implementation & Change Management

The First Question -
What to Change?

Of the three basic questions for management and improvement...

The first is probably the most important, and unfortunately the one most often overlooked.

Too often...

    ...individual problems are attacked individually when they are only symptoms of deeper problems. Because the deeper causes are not addressed, the symptoms return over and over again until the system starts to believe there is nothing that can be done about it.

Too often...

...a local change is made in one department or function without regard to its effect on other departments or functions. How often have we all seen "improvements" in one area create new problems elsewhere, netting no real benefit for the organization as a whole?

Too often...

...a local change is made that doesn't have any harmful effect, but still results in no net improvement for the organization. This is like the situation of making an already strong link of a chain stronger, when the strength of the chain is limited by another, "weakest," link...a waste of time and effort.

(hmmmm...There's a hint. Maybe what to change should be somehow related to that weakest link -- that aspect of the system that is limiting its performance -- the system's constraint. But if it were that obvious, it would be an easy task to pick the right change. There must be something else -- something deeper -- more difficult to see.)

Too often...

...a change is driven by some benchmarking effort, by the emergence of a "next big thing," of by the interest of some technocrat in the latest computerized whiz-bang. These might actually be good solutions, but not for the real problems faced by the organization. Solutions are only as good as the problem they address.

So it's important to ask that first question...What to change?

Let's assume that we want to improve the performance of an organization -- improve its ability to achieve its goals. This requires a change. As a matter of fact, it's probably the only valid reason for change.

Performance, or the lack of it, is driven by the behaviors of the parts of the organizational system.

Behaviors are responses to controls, usually established in the form of measurements that are used in some cases to rate for reward or respect on the one hand or punishment on the other.

These measurements and controls are typically designed to support certain strategies or policies that are deemed appropriate (by someone at some point in time, from some point of view) to support the goals of the organization.

Those who have the power to set strategies and or policies do so based on certain assumptions which, while they may have even been valid at a point in time, may lose their validity in the passing of time and the changing of circumstances. Unfortunately, the assumptions too often take on a life of their own and become part of the belief system -- the paradigm -- under which the entire system strives to work within.

In the presence of invalid paradigms, assumptions, or perceptions, the system suffers from "cognitive dissonance" when trying to deal with dilemmas that result from the conflict of common sense and the faulty beliefs.

Any direct attack on changing surface behaviors (which can be seen as symptoms or effects of the core conflict that result from the presence of invalid assumptions) is bound to have limited effect if that core conflict is not removed through the replacement of the invalid assumptions/perceptions.

So for significant and sustainable enterprise-wide improvement, what to change requires the discovery of the erroneous perceptions, assumptions, and paradigms that are at the root of the observed symptoms. The TOC Thinking Processes provide a proven approach for doing just that. They have already been used on various sets of symptoms that are related to the particular functions listed in the menu to the left. These sets of symptoms can be found in a simple self-assessment page found in this web site.

The Thinking Process can also be used to provide not only diagnosis, but also communication and consensus for development of an enterprise-wide strategy. The current constraint of an organization can often have such an effect that its roots and its results can usually be linked to many symptoms felt throughout the organization.

So what to change needs to recognize the organization's constraint to have any meaningful impact and needs to go deep enough to replace the erroneous assumptions, perceptions, and paradigms that perpetuate it.

Far better an approximate answer to the right question, than the exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise. - John Tukey, Princeton University

Related links:

Strategy & Alignment

Who is FP? Web Log
You can reach Focused Performance at:
601 Route 206, Suite 26-451, Hillsborough, NJ 08844
Voice: 908-874-8664
Contact Focused Performance