Eli Goldratt, father of the Theory of Constraints, set out to develop the TOC-specific Strategies and Tactics after realizing that, in practice, many change initiatives failed: even his own organization suffered from inertia. Although developed quite late in the change process, the Strategies and Tactics model quickly became one of the most important tools in the TOC portfolio.
How did this happen? What are these Strategies and Tactics, exactly? How can you apply them in your business and where do they fit within the big picture of change management? These are some of the questions we will try to answer
A necessary evolution
Dr. Goldratt identified a number of reasons for the poor success rate of change initiatives:
- For many managers, developing strategies seems like a dark art that remains closed to them. Most management methods lack clear guidelines in this respect, the whole procedure remains vague and, more often than not, it loses momentum and dies before completion.
- In most organizations, there is little or no communication of strategies, their underlying logic, along with everyone’s responsibilities during implementation.
- The inevitable result is resistance to change within the business: employees do not know their role in the change and cannot predict the effects it will have on their situation.
In accordance with his general approach, Dr. Goldratt decided to go at the issue from a strictly scientific point of view. In his quest for a clear and easily comprehensible definition of “Strategy” and “Tactic”, he started out by asking himself: where does strategy end, where does tactic begin?
The traditional view and a new start
Traditionally, strategies delineate the general ‘direction’ necessary to achieve a goal. Beneath that are the individual steps that need to be taken in order to implement the strategy: these are the tactics. Strategies and tactics function within an obvious hierarchy. But how can this be so clear-cut? If a tactic is further divided into additional steps, does this turn it into a strategy? Does it change its relationship to the strategy above it?
Dr. Goldratt decided to base his definitions on two simple questions:
- The strategy is the WHAT.
- The tactic is the HOW.
The logical consequences:
- Each strategy has a corresponding tactic.
- These S&T “bundles” exist on each level.
- Each of these elements is a necessary step in the direction of a higher-level goal.
This gives us the Strategies and Tactics Tree. It too has a hierarchy: it shows which actions are necessary and sufficient in order to achieve the level above it. Additionally, it gives us the order (left to right) in which the individual steps must be completed, simultaneously acting as a road map for the implementation of the change.
Adding a „Why“ to „How“ and „What“
Each “branch” (step) of the tree can thus act as a fully functional unit (with a “What” and a “How”). But, as Dr. Goldratt knew, this unit is valid only as long as the assumptions underlying it are valid. The traditional approach to strategies and tactics did not concern itself with these – a clear weakness:
- Erroneous assumptions found their way in and were never questioned (and thus never corrected) – the result were ineffective or possibly harmful strategies.
- Even if the strategy was built on valid assumptions, these were rarely communicated. Employees did not understand the logic behind the strategies and were reluctant to implement them.
This is why the Theory of Constraints offers a simple, yet robust set of questions applied to each strategy and tactic set, allowing you to clearly formulate and test the underlying assumptions:
Necessary Assumptiondescribes the facts and circumstances that make it necessary to complete the strategy and tactic in order to achieve the element above it. Why do we need the change?
Strategydescribes the objective of the change (or of this level). What do we need to achieve?
Parallel Assumptionsconstitute the link between the strategy and the tactic. They contain the facts and circumstances leading to the conclusion that the tactic is necessary in order to achieve the strategy. At the same time, they show why other possible, common or seemingly intuitive approaches will not achieve the objective.
Tacticdescribes what to do: How to achieve the objective.
As we move further down in the tree, the level of detail increases.
Sufficiency Assumptionworks as warning to the levels below. It contains facts and considerations that could easily be missed and lead to the steps on the levels below not achieving the objective.
These additional questions complete the “What” and the “How” of the Strategy and Tactic by answering the “Why”. They will be answered at each level of the tree, and for each “strategy and tactic bundle”. This way, each bundle (or branch) of the tree is also in a direct logical relationship with those above and below it: it explains why this particular step is necessary in order to achieve the level above, and also why the step requires a further level below it (if applicable).
|2.2||Title of planned change|
|WHY is the change needed?|
|What is the specific objective of this change?|
|WHY is the strategy possible?
WHY will it be difficult / risky?
WHY is the tactic the best way to achieve it?
|HOW? Tactic||HOW will the change be implemented?|
|WHY is this level of detail not sufficient?|
from Dr. Alan Barnard, Background on structure of S&Ts 2
Strategy and Tactic in practice
Developing strategies and tactics – in collaboration with all involved and affected – offers an opportunity to identify and correct weaknesses (erroneous assumptions). You do this by following these three simple steps:
1. Draw up a hierarchical S&T Tree of the planned changes. The objective of the change serves as its title.
2. Define the necessary strategy (what needs to be done) and tactic (how do we get there) for each change.
3. Define and validate (in a joint effort with all involved) the WHY of each change: why is it necessary, why is it possible, and why is it sufficient (or not, as the case may be).
The result will be a robust and practical plan you can use during implementation. At the same time, all those affected by the change will have contributed to it and find it much easier to identify with it: there will be much less resistance.
In the next post, you will learn about the different types of S&T trees and the versatile role they play during the improvement process.
1: Alan Barnard,TOCICO Präsentation “Einführung in die Strategie & Taktik der Theory of Constraints” Folie 9f., 2013
2: Dr. Alan Barnard, TOCICO Presentation New applications of, and developments in, Theory of Constraints’ Strategy & Tactics” Slide 11, 2012