Applying the Theory Of Constraints

Real life processes are messy and complex – changing them can be risky. With this in mind I’ve started a project in the organisation where I work looking at how we can understand better the problems in our area of the business and find out where to focus our improvement efforts.

We’re using an approach based on the Theory of Constraints. Lots of people have written more eleoquently than I on the details of TOC (See links at end of article) but although labelled “theory” this is a very practical approach that helps you answer three ‘Big Questions’:

  • What are we going to change?
    • What are we going to change to?
      • How are we going to do the change?

      We are still at the early stages – understanding how the area we are looking at really works – but already we’re finding that the approach is a great help in seeing what is really going on. As one of the team put it:

      When you used to ask me why something didn’t work I could only say “well it’s everything” – now we understand things much better. I don’t think anyone has ever looked at these processes in this way.

      That comment illustrates the double appeal to me of these methods – the diagrams and hard logic please the analytical part of my mind but beyond that there is the human benefit from working with a team to help them understand and express their issues in a systemic and systematic way. OK some of that might just be Hawthorne effect but I also believe there is something fundamentally empowering in helping people improve things that matter to them and express their issues in logical ways that can be used to influence others

Eliyahu Goldratt has set out his “Theory of Constraints” approach to transforming businesses in books such as The Goal, It’s Not Luck, Critical Chain

        and <amazonlink asin="0884271706">Necessary But Not Sufficient</amazonlink>. 
        Very simply the theory can be summed up as &#8220;a chain is as strong as its weakest link&#8221; &#8211; in any complex system (like a business) the overall performance will be constrained by the weakest part of the system.
        The TOC approach to continuous improvement is summed up in Goldratt&#8217;s &#8220;Five Focussing Steps&#8221; (slightly reworded):
          1. Identify the System Constraint
          2. Decide how to get the most out of the constraint
          3. Focus all your efforts on this
          4. Improve or remove the constraint
          5. Start all over again to find the new constraint!
        In order to do this he also invented the Five Thinking Tools:
          * Current Reality Tree
          * Conflict Resolution Diagram
          * Future Reality Tree
          * Prerequisite Tree
          * Transition Tree
        In Goldratt&#8217;s books these are referred to but not really explained &#8211; for a &#8220;how-to&#8221; guide see <amazonlink asin="0873893700">Dettmer</amazonlink>.
        **Sources of Further Information**
        * <amazonlink asin="0566074184">The Goal</amazonlink> Eliyahu Goldratt & Jeff Cox
        * <amazonlink asin="0566076276">It&#8217;s Not Luck</amazonlink> Eliyahu Goldratt 
        * <amazonlink asin="0566080389">Critical Chain</amazonlink> Eliyahu Goldratt 
        * <amazonlink asin="0884271706">Necessary but not Sufficient</amazonlink> Eliyahu Goldratt, Carol A. Ptak & Eli Shragenheim
        * <amazonlink asin="0873893700">Goldratt&#8217;s Theory of Constraints &#8211; A Systems Approach to Continuous Improvement

        </amazonlink> H. William Dettmer
        * [Goldratt Institute][2]
        * [Crazy about Constraints][3]
        * [TOC for me][4]
        * [DMOZ: Business: Management: Theory of Constraints][5]
        * [Search Google][6]
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Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change