My professional background in logistics and supply-chain has a big impact on how I view things, and how I attack problems. There is one method in my field that stands out for improving processes and systems. Applied correctly, it can become the lens to view almost any problem through – including being successful in your work.
“The core idea in the Theory of Constraints is that every real system such as a profit-making enterprise must have at least one constraint”. ~ Tim Sullivan, used by permission.
So there you have it. Every process has a constraint, in other words, something keeping it from reaching its full potential. Also, there is only ever one true constraint at a time. While there may be many weaknesses, there is only one thing at any given time limiting output.
And here is the kicker:
“There really is no choice in the matter. Either you manage constraints or they manage you. The constraints will determine the output of the system whether they are acknowledged and managed or not.” ~ Noreen, Smith, and Mackey, The Theory of Constraints and its Implications for Management Accounting (North River Press, 1995)
If you have ever been to Subway and seen twelve people in line waiting to order a sandwich while the cashier has nothing to do, then you have seen TOC at work. The cashier can’t work faster than the slowest sandwich maker. You can try to speed up her performance, but until you make the sandwich maker faster you aren’t going to get any more people through the line.
So what does this have to do with you? YOU are a profit-making enterprise. Therefore, the Theory of Constraints can help:
- Focus your improvement areas on things that will have the biggest impact
- Provide a proven framework that insures you follow-through
There are five steps that Goldratt outlines to implement his theory, and I’ve added some commentary for our purposes:
- Identify the constraint. What is the one thing holding you back more than anything else?
- Exploit the constraint. Do everything you can to maximize what you have.
- Subordinate everything else to the constraint. Help the constraint by working on other areas.
- Elevate the constraint. Do something big to eliminate the constraint.
- Go back to step 1. Continuously improve to continue moving forward.
As an additional resource, this presentation (while dated) gives a great overview of TOC for the novice.
Next time, I’ll review the top constraints people face when trying to advance in their current work or are in career transition. In the meantime, can you see how managing constraints could be an effective way to move your work forward?