I recently had a long discussion about whether it was more important to solve an urgent and specific business problem or to create a culture of process improvement that would avoid crises in the future. My colleague described the immediate problem as threatening to the entire organization. The obvious answer was that the immediate problem needed to be addressed. The question then became whether consultants should be engaged to provide the answer or to help the organization discover the answer. I suggest that doing the later actually negates the first question by generating a solution to the immediate problem while creating a culture of process improvement. Johan in The Goal illustrates this nicely. He helped Alex and his management team discover the answer while building a culture of process improvement.

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Part 13

Chapter 33 begins with Alex working on assembling his new team. He begins with Lou, the plant accountant. Before Alex can ask him to come with him, Lou explains to Alex that another old measurement has been causing problems with how the plant is perceived and how it behaves. Inventory is accounted for as asset on the balance sheet even though inventory is a liability. Since the plant has become more efficient it is carrying less inventory therefore reducing the assets reported on the balance sheet. During the period of time that inventory was drawn down to the levels needed by the more efficient process the plant looked as if it was increasing the amount of liabilities. Now that a new equilibrium in inventory had been established the problem was not an issue, however Lou notes that, “measurement should induce the parts [of the process} to do what is good for the organization as a whole.” Lou is ready to help Alex and is pumped to focus on building a better measurement program.

Alex approaches Bob Donavan, the plant production manager, to become the division’s production manager. Bob points out that the Burnside order that sealed Alex’s new deal was engineered. Alex and his management team had not just “taken” the order, but rather had worked out the best way the order could be delivered and then had negotiated a deal that benefited everyone. Bob wants to find a way create and document a process in which the plant and engineering can be an integral sales. A process and documentation is needed so that the plant leadership team does not need to be intimately involved in every order. Bob Donavan wants to stay at the plant and become the new plant manager and wants Stacey in materials to become the new production manager.

They find Stacey working on a new potential problem. Stacey has identified that there is a class of resources called capacity constraints resources (CCRs). CCRs are resources that have constraints, but are not bottlenecks. As the processing of work through bottlenecks is improved, CCRs risk becoming bottlenecks which Will negatively impact produvtuvity. Process improvements need to be continually be made across the entire system.

Alex finally turns to Ralph. Ralph points out that he now feels like he is an important part of the team rather than just the computer nerd in the corner. He walks Alex through his ideas of building systems to support engineering, managing buffers and for better measurement.

The experimentation that led to changing how the plant works has changed how Alex’s management team thinks about their jobs. Asking questions and experimenting with changes to the process those questions generate has yielded a much higher level of involvement and commitment.

Chapter 34 jumps to Alex and Julie sitting their kitchen drinking tea. They are discussing how each of Alex’s current team is exploring ideas that might not have an answer. Julie points out that if Johan had not cut him off by suggesting he trust his own judgement Alex might be reaching out to Johan for suggestions rather than trying to work on them as a team.

The discussion of Johan brings them back to Johan’s last question to Alex. Johan had asked, “What  are the techniques needed for management?” Julie suggests that since the questions that Alex’s management team each is currently working on will be around after Alex moves to his new job, why not engage them in answering Johan’s question. They have as much of a stake in the answer as Alex does!

Alex pulls the team together and they spend their first session discussing and drawing the many ways Alex could determine what is going on when he start the new job. There are many ways to answer the question of what is going on. Each yields a different answer based on differences in perspective, approach and an arbitrary order of arranging the results. The wide range of ways to think about the problem make it difficult to actually determine a solution. The group agrees to meet the next day.

Chapters 33 and 34 reflect a shift of focus. With the plant saved, Alex is faced with a need to generalize the process that was used so that it can be used for different problems or scaled up to the next level based on his promotion.

Remember that the summary of previous entries in the re-read of The Goal have been shifted to a new page (here).   Also, if you don’t have a copy of the book, buy one.  If you use the link below it will support the Software Process and Measurement blog and podcast. Dead Tree Version or Kindle Version