The Boundaries of TOC or What is “Not TOC”?

By Eli Schragenheim

A colleague of mine, Alfonso Navarro, a TOC expert from Colombia, made the point that when people challenge a TOC methodology, offer substantial changes, or raise a new idea never discussed before, they get the response “This is not TOC!” Alfonso concern is that it forces people to keep their ideas and methods to themselves and refrain from sharing them.

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Do we know what TOC is?

The main body of TOC is about managing human systems, which I prefer to call ‘organizations’.  I deal here only with TOC as an approach to managing organizations.  TOC, like any scientific area, is built from several key axioms. I recognize two critical axioms for TOC to be effective for managing organizations:

  1. The organization has a clear and well-agreed-upon one GOAL.
    • Usually with a set of necessary conditions that must apply, but when valid there is no desire to get more from those conditions.
    • For instance, maintaining good level of employee satisfaction and also client satisfaction and trust.
  2. The performance of the organization is NOT CHAOTIC.

The above axioms are not valid everywhere, but they are absolutely necessary for the TOC approach to be useful.  I have seen organizations, naturally not-for-profit, with critical disagreements between several powerful leaders about the goal and how to measure it.  Many universities live in constant internal struggle between different research fields and between research and teaching.  Many performing art institutions are in the same situation: struggle on what should be the goal and how it is measured.

When it is impossible to know whether the overall performance last year was better, worse, or about the same as the year before then I’m afraid TOC cannot help.

I treat an organization as chaotic when there is high uncertainty in the delivery to clients.  When an order might be delivered today, or only in three months and even that is not guaranteed then the organization is in chaos.  However, it seems that a chaotic organization is doomed to die pretty soon and I doubt whether TOC intervention can stop the fall.  Chaos in an organization is usually caused by several interactive constraints that suddenly emerge.  Most organizations naturally solve the chaotic situations quickly by adding capacity when the first signals of too much noise in the delivery are identified.  The others simply die.

When both axioms are valid then TOC can be applied.  The target is to lead to ongoing and significant improvement in the performance of the organization.

When an idea aiming at improving the performance is considered “not TOC”?

When TOC logical analysis, based on cause and effect using the categories of legitimate reservations (CLR), claims that either there are no benefits to the idea, meaning no evident improvement in performance, or that there are severe negative branches, which are likely to cause bigger overall damage, then the idea is flawed and one might call it “not TOC”. I prefer to point to the flaws of the idea, rather than describe it as non-TOC.

Checking the validity of cause and effect arguments is not hard science.  See my previous post on The Thinking Processes and Uncertainty.  We all use certain beliefs that we treat as truth, but there is no logical way to validate or invalidate them.  How can you treat a claim that if “one prays every morning” then “higher performance is achieved”?  I don’t like to deal with religion, it is just a reminder to the limitations of logic to give us full and secure judgment on the validity of an idea to improve performance.

TOC has its own beliefs and observations that look as common sense that guide the TOC thinking and solutions.  The four pillars, presented by Goldratt, summarize the most important ones.

The four beliefs above are tied to basic philosophy that enables the TOC thinking and methods. However, the four pillars are not black-and-white orthodox beliefs.  Even if in a certain environment one of the beliefs is not fully valid then TOC is still applicable.

For instance, when I see an environment that does not look simple and harmonious, I should still try to look for the inherent simplicity, but not necessarily wait until I see it – I should do my best to come up with the best improvement I can think of.  The same goes for facing a conflict without realizing how to evaporate it. I’d realize my solution is limited, but it is the best at that time.

The belief that “People are good” requires an interpretation, because as a general belief I cannot accept it. However, as an initial guideline it is very beneficial.  The point is when we assume that people are good then we are able to outline their perspective and interests and then understand their actions.  So, when we see something we don’t like, this initial assumption guides us to understand.  Then we can better judge whether a specific person is good.

The statement “this is not TOC” is irrelevant to the judgment of any idea and it should not be used within the TOC community.  I don’t care whether the idea has been conceived using the TOC tools or guidelines.  Be aware that the current TOC tools do NOT guaranty inspiration! The TOC guidance might push us towards it, but we also might miss it.  As Goldratt said:  Never Say I Know!

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