Goldratt assumed that every organization has to be inherently simple. This recognition is one of the four pillars of TOC, and to my mind the most important. It is in direct clash with the new Complex Theory when applied to human organizations.
Comment: I refer in this post only to organizations that have a goal and serve clients.
Is Inherent Simplicity just a philosophical concept without practical impact?
One of the most practical advises I got from Eli Goldratt was:
If the situation you are looking at seems too complex for you then:
You are looking on a too small subsystem – look at the larger system to see the simplicity
This is a very counter-intuitive advice. When you see complexity should you look for even more complexity? But, actually the situation is relieved when you analyze the larger system because what is important and mainly what is not important become clearer. Production shop-floor might look very complex to schedule. Only when you include the actual demand, distinguish between firm and forecasted demand, you realize what the real constraint is and only then the exploitation and subordination become apparent.
The term ‘simplicity’ needs to be clarified. There are two different definitions to ‘complexity’, which also clarifies what ‘simplicity’, the opposite, means.
- Many variables, with partial dependencies between them, impact the outcomes.
- It is difficult to predict the outcome of an action or a change in the value of a certain variable.
The second definition describes why complexity bothers us. The first one describes what seems to be the cause for the difficulty.
The term ‘partial dependency’ is what makes the interaction between variables complicated. When the variables are fully depended on each other then a formula can be developed to predict the combined outcome. When the variables are absolutely independent then again it is easy to calculate the total impact. It is when partial dependencies govern the output that makes it difficult to predict.
Examples for independent, fully depended variables, and partially depended:
- Several units of the same resource. The units are independent of each other.
- A production line where every problem stops the whole line. The line certainly works according to the pace of the slowest station, and every station is fully dependable of all the other stations in the line.
- A regular production floor with different work centers and enough space between them. Every work center is partially dependent on the previous ones to provide enough materials for processing.
When, on top of the complexity, every variable is exposed to significant variability then the overall complexity is overwhelming.
Can the performance of the organization be truly unpredictable?
You may call this state “chaos”, or just “on the verge of chaos”, point is that clients cannot tolerate such a performance. When I’m promised delivery at October 1st, 2pm and the delivery shows up on October 22nd, 6:30am – this is intolerable.
Is it possible to be on the verge of chaos internally, but still provide acceptable delivery to clients?
In order to achieve acceptable reliability organizations have to become simple enough. The initial impression of complexity is wrong because the partial dependencies are pushed down, so their impact on the deliveries is limited. The reduction of the partial dependencies is achieved by providing excess capacity and long lead-times. TOC simplifies it more effectively by using buffers and buffer management. What we get is good enough predictions of meeting due-dates and even being able to promise rapid-response to part of the market that is ready to pay more for quick supply.
Still, the use of the buffers means: the predictability is limited!
Even Inherent Simplicity cannot truly mean precise predictability! The whole idea is to determine the range of our ability to predict. When CCPM planning of a project predicts completion on June 2017, it actually means no later than June 2017. It could be completed earlier and we usually like it to be earlier, but the prediction of June 2017 is good enough.
Thus, the simplicity means predictions within an acceptable range!
Does simplicity means the solution can be described in one paragraph? I doubt whether one-paragraph on CCPM is enough to give the user the ability to judge the possible ramifications. Certainly we cannot describe the BOK of TOC in one paragraph.
Simplicity in radiating an idea means the idea is well understood. This is the meaning of “predictability” when we deal with marketing messages: we are able to predict what the reader, listener or spectator understands! Even here there is a certain range of interpretation that we have to live with.
What about the details of the solution itself? Is the solution necessarily easy to implement?
Easy and simple are not synonymous. The concepts could be simple, but the implementation might face obstacles, usually predictable obstacles, but overcoming the obstacles might be difficult. So, both simplicity and ease of implementation are highly desirable, but not always perfectly reachable.
We in TOC appreciate simplicity, but achieving it is a challenge. The requirements for truly good solutions are: Simplicity, Viability (possible to do in reality) and Effectiveness (achieving the objective).
An example illustrating the challenge:
Simplified-DBR is a simple effective solution for reliable delivery in manufacturing. However, for buffer-management to work properly we assume the net touch time is less than 10% of the production lead-time. This is a complication! A solution for manufacturing environments, where net-touch-time is longer than 10%, has been developed. It complicates the required information for buffer-management, but is effective.
I remember my professor for History of Physics, Prof. Sambursky, who explained to us:
“At all times, since ancient Greece, the scientists looked for the ONE formula that would explain everything. They always came with such a formula, and then a new discovered effect did not behave according to the formula. The formula was corrected to fit the behavior of that effect. Then more new effects contradicted the formula, and the formula started to be very cumbersome and it could not predict the behaviors of new effects. Then a new theory came with a new simple formula and the cycle went on again.”
TOC is basically simple. It strives to identify the Inherent Simplicity, come up with simple solutions, simple messages and easy implementations. But, we have, from time to time, to add something to deal with environments where a certain basic assumption is invalid. This is, to my mind, the most practically effective way to manage organizations.
Until a new simpler, yet effective, approach would emerge