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After 10 years in Carrollton, we have moved a few miles south to the Dallas Communications Complex in the prestigious Las Colinas region of Irving, TX:
Targeted Convergence Corporation
400 E Royal Ln Ste 290 Bldg 3
Irving, TX 75039-3602
Beyond that, Allen was a good friend. Our community suffered a great loss when Allen's plane went down in Michigan. We all extend our condolences to Allen's family and his many friends; and we extend our gratitude to him for all he did for the world prior to his departure.
Thanks to Allen's son Henry, we have been able to edit together a collection of videos that Allen was producing prior to his death. These represent his latest thinking... the thinking that was the basis for our thinking. This video gives you a direct look at the shoulders upon which we now stand.
A few historical notes:
we believe Allen produced all this content in 2003 and 2004;
his thinking was way ahead of his time;
since then, a lot of work has been done to make some of the things that Allen says were hard much easier and much more systematic, such that his call for action despite the difficulty is now even more compelling (much of the difficulty is gone, as explained below).
"We need to do a good Causal Analysis to figure out what the pieces are and which pieces are connected together, so that we can pick the right ones to develop Trade-Off Curves for. Similarly, it's important to have a good picture. The picture enables us to apply our visual intuition to figuring out what the problem is, to seeing the causation, and to understanding what the Trade-Off Curves mean […] how does it connect with the physical reality."
Thus, to make such Trade-Off Curves reusable, you need to make the Causal Maps reusable. Our Trade-Off Map tool auto-adjusts the Map to the needs of the reader (rather than the author), and allow the reader to use them to visually define the Trade-Off Curves that the reader needs to see (rather than those that were needed in the past).
"As compared with [Fishbone/Ishikawa/Y diagrams], Influence diagrams have [...] two major advantages. One, they let us show one variable as affecting multiple other variables. […] We can also easily show good and bad effects. And we can show a good effect blocking a bad effect. […] As compared with Function diagrams, Influence diagrams have the advantage of simplicity. But they have the disadvantage, that they are completely dependent on the intuition of the creator to decide what variables to use. There's no systematic method for producing the right variables."
We have developed a methodical mentoring-style process for developing influence diagrams, and our more general Causal Map, and then evolving those into a more reusable Decision Map that corresponds directly to the Trade-Off Curves and other tools for knowledge-based decision-making. With our tools, the process is easy and methodical, no longer requiring uncommon intuition.
"Combining many variables into a single parameter allows us to plot a lot more information on a page. It enables us to use the same curves to describe a variety of situations."You need to combine things so that you can see more complex problems given the limits of what we can see at once (3 dimensions). Figuring out how to combine things is a key challenge."
Combining things into compound variables like the Reynolds' Number that end up being useful is extremely difficult (hence why there are very few that have emerged over the years). Instead, we allow engineers to combine things in a more intuitive way… we allow them to combine multiple Trade-Off Curves into one Trade-Off Curve showing the trade-offs between the variables that they want to see... the variables they are already familiar with. Further, we use the power of interactive computer graphics to make it easy for engineers to see more than just 3 dimensions at once.
"[Some curves aren't] very meaningful, except for purely qualitative purposes. I want to emphasize, though, that qualitative purposes can be really important: they can help us understand, even though we don't actually have any numbers." […] "Start sketching the curve right away. First the sketch will be useful even before you have data. You may decide that you don't need data. […] The sketch will give you some idea of what sorts of tests you can conduct."
We have made it easy to sketch Trade-Off Curves. We have made it easy to develop Trade-Off Curves from very limited data. Both without artificial curve-fitting which can create mis-information. And these sketched curves can be easily combined with other Trade-Off Curves as if you had precise equations, allowing you to use them for optimized decision-making even for complex problems.
"[Trade-Off Curves become] much much more useful once you get good at understanding what are the variables that you need to plot, what really governs the limits of performance of your systems. That's what we're trying to find out; that's what we're trying to plot; and that's where we get the real benefit."
To help engineers learn that in the face of complex multi-dimensional, multi-relational problems, our Success Assured™ software makes it easy to look at the multi-dimensional space from many different perspectives. That allows the engineers to develop a deeper intuition about the multi-dimensional design space, and allows them to effortlessly look at the curves in detail from those different perspectives. Through rapid, effortless exploration, we enable engineers to get good at understanding what plots are the most valuable for development of their products. Our Trade-Off Chart tool is designed to be more than just a curve... it is designed to be a decision-making tool. It is directly coupled with our Trade-Off Solver tool, which is also designed to support convergent collaborative decision-making.
"Trade-Off Curves are also a primary tool in teaching new engineers. […] And Trade-Off Curves are used for negotiation and explanation: between Toyota and suppliers, between the different sections of Toyota, and between engineers and their managers."
In complex, multi-dimensional, multi-relational problems, the trade-off curves that are most useful in your own decision-making may be a horrible starting point for new employees, engineers in other areas, or suppliers. Each user of Trade-Off Curves needs to be able to view those curves from their own perspective, at a level of complexity that they can understand and absorb. It is only then that they can leverage those curves to elevate their own understanding. To facilitate that, all of our Success Assured™ tools are designed to use the knowledge captured by the experts, but to present that knowledge how the reader/viewer wants to see that knowledge... from the perspective they want to see it... at the level of complexity that they want to work at that time.
"[For] things that are really simple … you want to design electrical sockets, for example, so that people can't put their fingers in them… you don't need a Trade-Off Curve for that, you just need a rule that says that electrical sockets should always be smaller than, say, an 1/8 of an inch."
Success Assured™ software makes it easy to capture simple design rules in a way that complements your Trade-Off Curves, such that you can mix them and reuse them in the same way. So, while a simple rule that the socket's width should be less than 1/8 inch may be boring on its own, it may be an important element when combined with 5 Trade-Off Curves (where some are dependent on that width) into a single Trade-Off Curve between the more interesting elements (such as designing a plug that does not easily get pulled out of the socket, but also does not easily get bent when it is pulled from a socket).
"You might assume that Trade-Off Curves, because its hard to show more than 3 variables on a page, are not good for complicated designs or complicated design situations. I'm not so sure that's true. If a design is so complicated that I can't understand it, then I can't put it in a Trade-Off Curve. But if I can't understand it, can I really hope to do a good job of designing? I don't think so. So, applying Trade-Off Curves in a complex situation may require a lot of thought to figure out how to combine the variables in a sensible way to produce some set of curves that are useful, that let me really understand the design. But I think that thought is worthwhile. I think that saying, 'Oh its just too complicated, we can't use Trade-Off Curves for this.' is probably a one-way ticket to a really bad design and some really severe problems down the line."
We will second that: the more complex the problem, the more valuable the Trade-Off Curves. With simpler problems, there's often a few experienced engineers that can see all the Trade-Off Curves in their heads... it is that intuition that allows them to design well. As problems get more complex, there are more areas of expertise that get involved, and it becomes more and more difficult for any one person to know all the curves. Success Assured™ software's multi-dimensional, multi-relational Trade-Off Charts make it easy for the experts to share the Trade-Off Charts that they know in such a way that everybody can see them... and everybody can easily combine them with their own Trade-Off Curves, and look at them from their own perspectives.
"We don't want to just look at how to move along the curve. We also want to look at how to change the position of the curve, or how to make the curve irrelevant; how to do something that will completely change the situation. This then enables the users of the Trade-Off Curve Page to figure out what to do when they can't design within the safe region of the Trade-Off Curve."
To enable thinking beyond the limits of a Trade-Off Curve, Success Assured™ allows you to easily generate a Decision Map corresponding to any Trade-Off Curve. And the software supports a mentored brainstorming and innovation process pulled by that Decision Map, to make it easy to innovate ways to move, extend, or work-around the existing Trade-Off Curves.
"Here's the critical thing, […] keep updating the curves, every time you get a new datum. If you do this, they'll stay useful; if you don't, they won't."
Updating your Trade-Off Curves cannot be extra effort beyond your current design work. If it is, then it will often not get done. And if it is ever not done, such that knowledge becomes obsolete, then the faith in those Trade-Off Curves can deteriorate rapidly. Success Assured™ integrates the Trade-Off Curves into the tools your engineers will start using for collaborative decision-making in such a way that updating the knowledge and curves IS the easiest way to get their current design work done. The fact that doing such will be useful in the future is purely a bonus.
"They know they have to get better at using computers, but they are afraid that as computers become more widely used, engineers will begin to lose their intuition, and design performance will actually decrease. ... So, Toyota has the problem of introducing more simulation, while not losing the basic understanding. Most US companies have the opposite problem: they're okay at simulation, what they need to be better at is basic understanding. And that, of course, is what Trade-Off Curves are for."
The CAD and CAE tools that have been evolving for the last several decades do an amazing job of automating much of our development work. And that should free designers to spend more time building deep understanding. Unfortunately, without tools to make development of basic understanding and intuition easy, many designers take the easier path of relying on the their back-end tools to check their work, rather than developing their own understanding. TCC's focus is on using computing and visualization technology for a different purpose: to make it easy to build basic understanding and intuition in the far front end of the development process. That way, when they begin doing the bulk of the work in their CAD/CAE tools, they are armed with deep understanding in addition to great back-end development tools.
"The foremost U.S. expert on lean development." – James Womack
Although many have studied the Toyota Product Development System, few understood it as well as Allen. It is one thing to identify the characteristics that differ from most other organizations; it is entirely another to understand why those characteristics make the differences they do. And since it is generally not possible (or even reasonable) to duplicate Toyota's Product Development System in other companies, it is critical to understand why it works in order to leverage that knowledge in your company. Based on a decade of direct research at Toyota, Allen provided us tremendous insight into what is important and why it works. In that sense, we are standing on his shoulders now (more details on that below).