Like many people interested in Theory of Constraints (TOC), my journey began with by reading the book The Goal by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt in 2000. This is the amazing business novel about Alex the plant manager who must fix his cost and quality issues in 90 days, or his plant will be shut down. In this novel, Dr. Goldratt is personified in the character named Jonah, who outlines the Theory of Constraints.
Over the following years, I tried to learn as much as I could about TOC as I could. When I learned that that Goldratt had codified how to become a Jonah, I committed myself to this path. In this journey, I encountered many challenges, of which the largest was finding out how I could be formally trained as a Jonah. Because, despite reading all the information I could find, I found that I had many, many questions.
My Vexing Unanswered Questions (Even After Ten Years)
After years of researching and scouring the Internet, I still had many vexing questions about TOC and how to apply the techniques that Goldratt and others had created:
- Why does the TOC body of knowledge seem so fragmented?
- Is it just me, or do the TOC textbooks seem to be missing tools to help with practical application of TOC techniques?
- Where can I find start-to-finish examples of using the TOC thinking processes?
- What is the relationship of all the various tools that Goldratt introduced over the years? (Are they orthogonal? Do they overlap? Do some derive or supercede from the others?)
- the 5 Focusing Steps (introduced in The Goal)
- the TOC Thinking Processes (introduced in It's Not Luck)
- the specific applications of TOC (Drum Buffer Rope, Critical Chain, etc.)
- Viable Vision (introduced in Viable Vision)
- Why do so many of the TOC mailing lists seem to be lead people to dead-end and incomplete projects?
- Where do all the practicing TOC practitioners hang out?
- Has anyone assembled a repository or corpus of information that can help someone starting out like me?
- What happens at the TOC conferences?
- Why hasn't TOC movement had the same momentum as Six Sigma and Lean? (And is it really important?)
My goal is to chronicle my journey of getting trained and my ongoing path as a TOC Jonah, and share the answers to some of the questions I have found. I will write about the decisions I had to make to choose a path getting Jonah training, my introduction to the community of TOC researcher and practitioners through Dr. James Holt, an associate professor at the Engineering Management department at Washington State University, and what I've learned about how these practitioners have been advancing the TOC body of knowledge over the past 20 years. I will document what I've discovered that fill in the gaps in my knowledge, and describe the gaps that still exist, which I believe are waiting for someone to fill.
My motivation is make this knowledge available, because I wish I had this information many years ago. It would have saved me saved countless of days of research, avoided many dead ends, and reduced the many reams of paper I had to wade thorugh as I tried to survey the services, products and articles.
Specific TOC Examples I Will Share
I will share the work from completed TOC projects, including solving problems between order administration and sales, order administration and professional services, as well as development and quality assurance. These are examples of using the TOC Thinking Processes to facilitate senior managers to solve complex business problems, and to find the small lever that can create fast, breakthrough improvements.
I also intend to share the work that I have done to apply TOC to what I believe the core conflict in IT, which derives from having to balance the need to respond to urgent business needs (project delivery) and the need to provide stable and reliable IT service (service delivery). Every CIO, VP Operations and VP Application Development struggles to balance these two objectives, which simultaneously creates pressure to make changes more quickly to be more nimble and agile, and yet also creates pressure to make changes more slowly and carefully to ensure successful outcomes.
(In support of the previous objective, I will also show some work that I did in 2003, which probably are good examples of what not to do. Looking back now, having formal training and much more experience, I'd rate the work as awful. But, the work did generate insights that were genuinely valuable and useful at the time. However, the mistakes I made are likely illustrative of the mistakes "TOC Jonah wannabe's" are destined to make when led only by the Goldratt novels and textbooks.)
My intent is not to create journal-quality articles that are peer reviewed, or a definitive textbook. Nor am I intending to write a primer on TOC. I'm choosing a blog format, just because I've been wanting to write this down for months, and I just happen to like the authoring tools available.