Using Theory of Constraints to Plan Access To Shared Resources #

Clarke Ching points to Network Rail’s document Consultation On Capacity Study For East Coast Main Line [PDF, 546kb], which documents a Theory Of Constraints approach to managing resource capacity – in this case on a strategic rail route.

Clarke quotes the introduction which sets out the way the methodology was adapted, within the body of the document there is more on how they assessed capacity at the various constraints along the route.

Another quote relates to how the first list of probable constraints was found:

The starting point of the analysis was the selection of the potential constraints to be considered. A draft list of locations to be studied was produced using Network Rail’s detailed working knowledge of the East Coast Main Line. One approach has been to discuss potential issues with the Network Rail Timing Specialists who have a timetabling responsibility for the area of interest. Commonly they have been asked ‘which location / locations are likely to prove problematic?’. One of the tenets of the ThOC is that the over-riding constraints will be widely recognized. The locations selected for analysis have been discussed with each of their operators and they have each indicated their agreement. It is reassuring in this respect that the locations studied to date feature prominently in the responses of consultees to the applications.

Although the document is 85 pages long, I think it is worth at least a skim as an example of application of the approach to a new field.

What seems especially valuable to me in this example is the evidence that even in the complex multi-company and government environment of the UK railways, the use of a logical approach such as the Theory Of Constraints was capable of gaining support from the parties involved.

It is this aspect which, I think, points to the wider usefulness of the example as a learning tool which may point to new areas where application of constraints thinking could be useful. For example I can see possible application in the media production industry where application of digital networked techniques to complex supply chains will inevitably lead to contention over common pieces of infrastructure.

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Julian Elve
Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change

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