TOC Thinking Processes Tools
In my previous post, I wrote about the basic premise of inherent simplicity underlying TOC Thinking Processes (TOC TP). Dr. Goldratt was a thinker who provoked others to think. He introduced simple, practical TOC TP tools in Its Not Luck, the sequel to THE GOAL.
The starting point in using TOC TP tools is articulating pains or undesirable effects (UDEs – pronounced as “oodies” in TOC terminology). The UDE has to be articulated in such a way that it brings out the pain that we’re trying to eliminate clearly, without implying plausible cause for its existence or suggesting a solution. Most practitioners find that this seemingly simple task of articulating the pain is not so easy. it is not uncommon to take 5-6 iterations to articulate the pain in a simple, succinct manner. There is a very strong reason for it. When dealing with a difficult situation that we are neck deep in, we find it difficult to take a step back and answer some basic questions:
- What is it about this negative situation that is bothering me?
- SO WHAT? What does it jeopardize?
- How does it affect my company’s goal?
The moment you are able to answer these questions, you will get a clearer picture of the current situation. UDEs are the apparent symptoms of deeper, underlying root cause or core conflict. While attempting this for the first time, take your time to articulate the UDE, don’t rush through the process.
The Evaporating Cloud (cloud) is the most commonly used TOC TP tool. It is a necessity-based logic diagram that helps in (a) communication or articulation of the conflict and (b) resolving the conflict in a win-win manner, without making a compromise.
The cloud is primarily a conflict resolution tool, one of its key benefits is that it facilitates clear articulation of the conflict and enables staying focused on the issue. It is a versatile problem-solving tool that can be used for resolving inner dilemmas, interpersonal issues or complex organizational issues.
A conflict is a clash of wants or actions. This cloud demonstrates Alex’s dilemma, it represents the two opposing actions that he is caught between. D and D’ are in direct conflict. The needs underlying D and D’ are written in B and C respectively. While the actions required to achieve needs B and C in conflict, there is no conflict between needs B and C. Both are valid needs, necessary to achieve the goal outlined in entity A.
The cloud is read from left to right in the following way:
“In order to have [A] – I/we must have [B]”
“In order to have [B] – I/we must have [D]”
The cloud is helpful in articulating the problem. Underlying each arrow, there are assumptions. The next step is to challenge assumptions. Sometimes the assumptions are so deep rooted that we are not even aware about them.
In the cloud above, one of the underlying assumptions can be stated as: In order to increase profits we must close the wrapper department because there is no way the wrapper department can be made profitable. Clearly articulating the assumption also forces you to think of a way to challenge this assumption.
Challenging assumptions takes practice. Invalidating assumptions requires a mindset of questioning the obvious. We need to identify conditions under which our assumption is not valid. If we can find the flawed assumptions and break the conflict, the cloud evaporates!
These tools are excellent for change management and problem solving in organizations growing at a rapid pace. Companies have used these in groups to redesign processes, improve project delivery and increase performance manifold in these areas. Even if teams cannot come up with solutions immediately, the use of TOC TP tools enables them to look at the big picture and be open to the possibility of an alternate solution. It leads to better communication, clarity of thought, and improved collaboration among team members.
Have you used the TOC Thinking Processes individually or in a group? Which TOC TP tool are you most comfortable using?
Authored by – Ira Gilani, Director, Goldratt India
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