“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world”
I recently finished the book titled, “Beyond the Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt. It was a companion sequel to his best-selling business novel titled, “The Goal”. “The Goal” introduced the world to Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC). “Beyond the Goal” digs deeper into many of the TOC concepts introduced in “The Goal”, reflects on the status of TOC acceptance and implementations world wide and provides guidance on how to implement TOC.
Before purchasing the book, I had to decide on either the written book or the audiobook. It was an easy decision when I found out that a) the audiobook format was the only format available and b) Goldratt himself narrates the audiobook. Having never met the man, being able to listen to him was the next best thing. It was a wonderful experience. His accent, passion, and sense of humour made the words and ideas come alive for me. As if I was attending a live lecture.
On top of all that, I got a special bonus. He blew my mind and rocked my world three times. Here’s how.
- There are no complex systems.
- Silver Bullets do exist.
- Phased change implementations are a waste.
There are no complex systems
Given two systems, A and B in the diagram below. Which one is more complex?
If you are like most people, you would immediately answer System B. If, however, you are a physicist as was Goldratt, you would answer System A. Why is that?
It all depends on how you define “complexity”.
The people answering System B would most likely define and assess complexity based on the number of words needed to describe the system. Clearly then, System B being an interwoven mess of lines and arrows would definitely need more to describe it.
If you are a physicist, you would define and assess complexity based on the number of points you have to press to impact the entire system. The number of points is known as the “degrees of freedom” a system has. System A requires you to press each of the 4 circles independently to impact the entre system. System A has 4 degrees of freedom. System B only requires you press any 1 part of the system to have an impact on the entire system since everything is interconnected. System B has 1 degree of freedom. So clearly, System A is more complex than System B.
So, who’s right? In theory, both would be right and simply agree to disagree. However, in reality, the idea of System A doesn’t exist. Everything is interconnected in our system. Just like System B. So, “There are no complex systems in reality.”
Silver Bullets do exist
Goldratt challenges the phrase “There are no Silver Bullets” and the conventional mantra that change is hard and benefits will be incremental and take time to realize. According to Goldratt, “What is TOC? It’s a *huge* collection of silver bullets!”. This was not only illustrated in “The Goal” where a manufacturing plant in deep trouble had a turnaround in 3 months with huge benefits but also in over a thousand real companies world wide (at the time) that had implemented TOC with winning strategies and success.
Goldratt uses a metaphor to explain why he feels Silver Bullets do exist. It starts with Archimedes, a Greek scientist who over 2000 years ago, claimed that if he had a lever long enough, he could move the world. Goldratt goes on to explain that he believes the advances in technology brought about by the hard sciences provide the leverage points for meaningful, huge, significant bottom-line impacts. Think Moore’s law.
Phased change implementations are a waste
Goldratt uses the holistic nature of TOC to illustrate this point. I can’t help but see parallels with any holistic change initiative including moving to Agile ways of working. My favourite quote from him regarding this is:
“Partial implementation of a holistic approach is an oxymoron.”
He claims that TOC implementations are easier, cheaper and faster to start with the company as a whole than to implement piece-by-piece and silo-by-silo. He gives three reasons why partial implementations are harder, costlier and slower.
- Improving only one link in a chain may cause problems in another link. Implementing TOC in Production increases productivity tremendously but then creates inventory problems for Distribution.
- Improving only one link may cause problems for the link that improved. If the excess capacity from the improvements in one link has nowhere to go, it will lead to right-sizing initiatives meaning layoffs for the very link that was improved. When this occurs, it won’t just mean going back to normal but rather worst than normal. Better to maintain the status quo and keep my job than to risk initiating any type of capacity improvements in future!
- Improving only one link is definitely a waste of the major benefits. Implementing TOC on the Production line may yield $‘X’ contribution to the bottom-line but $‘9X’ of contribution are wasted for the same effort if Sales and Marketing do not implement TOC.
As mind-blowing as these 3 ideas are, I don’t think my world will change over night because of them. It has however, given me much pause for thought.
Unless I can find a lever…