To most people, the initials TA conjure up images of office workers playing soldiers at the weekend. But to a growing number of accountants working in manufacturing they stand for Throughput Accounting.
The concept - still in development - is the latest attempt to grapple with the changes that have resulted from the transformation of manufacturing in recent years.
The success of Japanese manufacturers led management thinkers and their consultants and clients to focus on such concepts as Just in Time, Total Quality Management and World Class Manufacturing. The combination of this trend, with advances in manufacturing technology and growing competition, created something of a crisis among not just general managers but also the financial specialists working alongside them.
There is no doubt that the stock of management accountants is on the rise. Their professional body, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, may have failed in its attempt to merge with the Institute of Chartered Accountants. But survey after survey finds increasing support for their qualification, while the rise to prominence of the likes of J Sainsbury 's finance director, Rosemary Thorne, is raising the institute's profile.
However, there is some dispute among their ranks about how best they can carry out their role, and so resolve the problems caused by the huge changes going on in industry.
Activity-Based Costing was one response to the growing feeling that existing accounting systems were inadequate, particularly in the areas of costing and control systems. Another was to rethink management's reliance on accounting as its central source of information - a reaction that put across the view that such behaviour was "like driving a car, looking in the rear- view mirror".
It called for a "balanced scorecard" approach, with non-financial performance measures being taken into account.
The arrival of "throughput" as a possible solution is down to the belief of a third group (working outside accountancy) that accounting is too important to be left to accountants.
It derives from Eli Goldratt's Theory of Constraints, in which the maximisation of throughput is seen as the most …