Deciding what to change – where exactly to launch an improvement initiative – is an important step that should not be taken lightly. As we have seen, the wrong decision in this process can lead to failures, wasted efforts or even undesired effects.
In order to avoid this, you must first identify the core conflict you wish to resolve. Every conflict is based on assumptions – paradigms – that can be questioned. Are these assumptions valid? How can the conflict be eliminated?
The Evaporating Cloud is a tool from the Theory of Constraints which lends itself well to showing and analyzing core conflicts. The name refers to the fact that through questioning the assumptions underlying the conflict and showing them to be invalid, the conflict simply evaporates on its own. Once you have identified your core conflict, you can use this process to verify whether it actually exists as posited: are the assumptions (paradigms) driving the conflict truly valid? Could they be replaced by different assumptions?
Limiting vs. Enabling Paradigms
To help with the above, Dr. Barnard offers a new process of decision making to replace the traditional way still used in many organizations. It switches from a fundamentally negative, “limiting” view to a positive, “enabling” one, turning problems into opportunities.1 With this new approach, the obstacles commonly found in change management, and which Eli Goldratt already described in his book “The Choice”, can be analyzed again and eliminated.2
1. Turning the constraint into an opportunity
Rather than limiting your options by starting only from what you can control, start with the assumption that every constraint can be eliminated.
Analyze how you can make the changes that lead to your set target. Don’t say “I cannot influence this”, but rather “what needs to happen in order to…”
2. Everything is simple
Rather than assuming the system is complex and made up of the sum of many parts, each of which you must improve one at a time, seek to find the underlying core conflict.
This conflict determines most undesired effects through cause-and-effect relationships; this is the only thing you need to resolve.
3. Win-Win is always possible
Rather than aiming for a compromise or a win only for yourself, assume that it is always possible to find a Win-Win solution for everyone.
This changes the focus of both parties from “me against you” to “us against the problem”.
4. Uncertainty is a given
Rather than working with the assumption of certainty, accept that uncertainty is unavoidable due to variability.
Your goal therefore will not be an optimum that you can reach exactly, but rather an (imprecise) area of “good enough”. Use direct feedback to adjust your course if you slip into “too little” or “too much”.
5. People are inherently good
Rather than assuming that people make bad choices because they are bad (selfish, thoughtless, devious…), begin by assuming that people are good by nature.
They merely start from bad (wrong) assumptions which need to be eliminated. This approach will allow you to find a solution in cooperation with the other person.
Using these five steps you can perform a very simple, but fundamental paradigm shift and open up entirely new ways of approaching and eliminating problems. This will also help you with the decisions that must be made for any changes.
Resolving fundamental decision conflicts
You can now face the inevitable questions of what, when and how to change. Here you are bound to encounter the above invalid assumptions and the poor decisions that typically follow from them. Armed with your new, enabling approach, you will find it much easier to resolve the underlying conflicts.
What to change (and what NOT to change)
When there are limited resources available, it is not possible to capitalize on all improvement opportunities. This is where you will often find the effects of the (wrong) paradigms “more is better” and “local improvement leads to global improvement”.
What you now need is the focus to determine which change will have the biggest impact. To do this, identify the system constraint or the core conflict with the largest number of undesired effects.
When to change (and when NOT to change)
The conflict between stability and growth, and its consequences, are well known: change happens too late, not at all, or the results are negligible.
The assumption “change is not possible” (because outside of our control) can be countered with the enabling approach: “every obstacle can be overcome”.
The assumption “change is not necessary” (because we have plenty of time) can be broken by setting ambitious targets which show that improvement can (and should) happen even during times of non-crisis.
How to change (and how NOT to change)
The assumption that the sooner we start, the sooner we will finish is very common, but wrong: if initiatives start too early (with insufficient resources), it leads to higher workloads and multitasking. This is inefficient, time-consuming and results in more mistakes.
Fear of failure is another common danger: many find it hard to embrace the concept of abandoning or correcting an improvement initiative because it is not delivering the expected results. But this is an important part of a healthy process of improvement.
In our next blog post you will learn how to define the solution (target) allowing you to resolve the conflicts you have identified.
1: Dr. Alan Barnard, “Continuous Improvement and Auditing” in Cox III, James F., and Schleier Jr., John G., Ed. Theory of Constraints Handbook. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., 2010. p.. 415ff.
2: Goldratt, E. M., The Choice, Great Barrington, MA: North River Press, 2008.
3-8: Ibid., p. 417