About the question “What is TOC?”

Jelena Fedurko-Cohen,  4 August 2019

After our recent broadcast of ThinkCamp OnAir on 1st August, an unexpected for me topic – “Does everyone share the same understanding of what is TOC, and what is the definition of TOC?” – emerged in the course of the after-the-broadcast discussion.

My answer in this discussion was: “In our (Oded’s and mine) understanding TOC is a combination of principles and rules that are the basis for specific mechanics and tools to manage some types of social systems.”

Since I am still puzzled by the question, this morning out of curiosity I opened Eli Goldratt’s Chapter 1 in Theory of Constraints Handbook (Mc Graw Hill, 2010). Chapter 1 title “Introduction to TOC – My Perspective”.

The very start of the chapter, p.3, Eli: “[…] can we condense all of TOC into one sentence? I think that it is possible to condense it to a single word – focus.”

This goes on to the sentence opening the first section titled “Focus”.

p.3, Eli: “There are many different definitions to the word focus, but a good starting point is a simple definition such as “Focus: doing what should be done.”

p.3, lines fourth and third from the bottom of the page, Eli: “[…] when we can’t do it all, it is of the utmost importance to properly select what to do; it is of the utmost importance what we choose to focus on.”

p.4, the last sentence in the section “Constraints and Non-Constraints”, Eli: “We don’t have a choice but to define focus more narrowly: do what should be done AND don’t do what should not be done.”

With that I would like to refine the definition of TOC that I have given in the discussion. In my understanding, TOC is a combination of principles and rules that are the basis for specific mechanics and tools to manage some types of social systems in such a way that it allows those who manage these systems to do what should be done and not to do what should not be done.”

The section titles in Chapter 1 and the content of the sections list the key ones of these principles, rules, mechanics and tools:

  • Constraints and non-constraints (p.4)
  • Measurements (Throughput Accounting with T, I, OE) (p.4)
  • DBR and Buffer Management (in the section “The Goal and The Race”) (p.5)
  • 5 focusing steps (in section “Other Environments”). On p.5, Eli specifically defines 5 Focusing steps as “a precise verbalization of the focusing process”. Hence, tying WHAT is TOC (=focus) to the process outlined by 5 focusing steps.
  • CCPM
  • The Thinking Processes. On pp.5-6, Eli specifically points out: “To focus properly, the following questions had to be answered: How do we identify the constraint? What are the decisions that will lead to better exploitation? How do we determine the proper way to subordinate the non-constraints o the above decision? […] There was the crying need to provide a logical detailed structure to identify the core problem, to zoom in on the ways to remove it, and to do so without creating new UDEs.”
  • The Market Constraint (p.6)
  • Capitalize and Sustain (pp.6-7)
  • POOGI (in section “Ever Flourishing”, p.7)
  • S&T Trees (p.8)

Keeping the above in mind, I feel steady proceeding with my definition of what TOC is: a combination of principles and rules that are the basis for specific mechanics and tools to manage some types of social systems in such a way that it allows those who manage these systems to do what should be done and not to do what should not be done.

To answer a possible comment regarding how to treat TOC principles and applications that are not outlined by Eli in Chapter 1 of the Handbook, I will quote a line from the short story with which Eli started Chapter 1: “[…] the rest is just derivatives.”    

  Jelena Fedurko-Cohen,  4 August 2019  

 

4 replies
  1. Avatar
    Sanjeev Gupta says:

    “Focus” is quite a useless definition. Value Stream Analysis is also focus. Cost Accounting is also about Focus. So we resort to saying things like “but focus is about what should be done and should not be done”.

    TOC is really a set of principles and tools to help us replace local optimization with global. That’s all it is.

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Richard E. Zultner says:

    Jelena, Does TOC apply most powerfully to logistical systems with material flow? And what kind of social system does TOC apply least powerfully to?

    Reply
    • Jelena Fedurko-Cohen
      Jelena Fedurko-Cohen says:

      Richard, I cannot comment on degree of “powerfully”. The degree of impact of TOC on a system depends on (1) the one who uses TOC and (2) whether TOC WAS used (in other words – what was used WAS TOC). If no one has applied TOC to a certain type of social system then we can only say that we do not know whether and how TOC works there.

      Reply

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