What is theory of constraint?

The theory of constraints (TOC), as it’s known among the management teams. It was conceived as a philosophy of continuous improvement. It has evolved in the last 30+ years from the time Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt introduced the concept in his book “The Goal“. TOC tries to identify a constraint with in an organization production process. The assumption is there is always a constraint. Basically, TOC by Goldratt laid out a systematic approach to identify what was preventing a company from achieving its goal of making money for its owners. This blog is trying to use that approach, to help in one’s thinking or the focussing process.

Who is Dr Eliyahu Goldratt?

Eliyahu Moshe Goldratt was an Israeli business management guru. An author of several non-fiction and business novels on the application of theory of constraints. He introduced the optimized production technique, the famous TOC, the thinking process and other TOC derived tools.

“I smile and start to count on my fingers: One, people are good. Two, every conflict can be removed. Three, every situation, no matter how complex it initially looks, is exceedingly simple. Four, every situation can be substantially improved; even the sky is not the limit. Five, every person can reach a full life. Six, there is always a win-win solution. Shall I continue to count?”

Eliyahu M. Goldratt

How TOC got evolved?

TOC became famous through his book, The Goal. In his book, the protagonist is an operations manager. Goldratt uses TOC to device a plot. The plot revolve around identifying the current constraint, building upon the constraint to find out which would be the next limiting constraint. For example, in the production plant, the operations manager faces one particular constraint. The constraint is the inadequate machine tool capacity. Goldratt explains how this affects the production process, and when resolved what can be the other constraint that limits the system.

What are the key elements of TOC?

Goldratt followed five focusing steps in the process of on-going improvement in his TOC. Those steps are

  1. Identify the constraint: Try and identify a constraint, that is limiting the output. This can be a production constraint or policy constraint.
  2. Exploit the constraint: Achieve the best possible output, with the constraint in place. Goldratt visualized the production process as a flow process. In a flow process, try and remove the limitations that constrain the flow. Also reduce the time that is affected by the constraint and apply it for a most effective way possible.
  3. Subordinate other activities to the constraint: Now, link the output of other operations to match the constraint. Thus this helps to smooth the workflow. Also clears any stagnation points that can happen due to the work in process inventory. Avoid making the constraint wait for work
  4. Elevate the constraint: When the constraint is not resolved, assume the machine output cannot be increased, then increase the staff and the number of machines to reach the desired output.
  5. If anything has changed, go back to step one: When the outcome is changed, go back to starting stage again. Assess to see if there is any other operation or policy that is becoming a system constraint. Follow the above steps again. This helps in consistent process of ongoing improvement.

How an Olympic swimmer used TOC principles?

TOC can be applied to Personal Excellence too. It’s not only for organizations but also for personal growth and victory. To cite an example from Theory of Constraint Institute, an Olympic hopeful failed twice. She failed to qualify for the swimming team. She took the TOC and proved in the she can win. This is upon correction of few short falls. Those were

  • Take time to stretch.
  • Avoid dehydration.
  • Remove fear and think positive.
  • Communication with coach to be better. Develop good communication.
  • Train when you are in strength. Don’t stretch when you are tired.

She upon applying the TOC principles, went to win gold medal and clock new world record. She turned out to be a motivational speaker in future and also returned to olympics triathlon after few years.

“For every effect there is a root cause. Find and address the root cause rather than try to fix the effect, as there is no end to the latter”

-Celestine Chua

What are various thinking process?

Considering 5 steps mentioned earlier, the basic questions that needs to be answered are

  1. What to change.
  2. What to change to.
  3. How to cause the change

The above questions of the Thinking process, helps us to drill down into our visualizations. This helps to present the cause and effect relationships, which we observe in our day to day activities. It helps us to capture those to portray their relationships in a simple and straightforward manner. The Thinking process is an integral part of TOC.

TOC when applied properly, can have a real good impact psychologically. This is by systematically addressing the question. These are the questions one has intuitively, however TOC brings this out clearly. There is a process based on the psychology of change that acknowledges and systematically addresses the questions people intuitively ask when evaluating a change.

  1. Am I addressing the problem?
  2. Is the solution for the problem, a good one?
  3. When the solution works towards resolving the problem, how does it benefit me?
  4. What can go wrong with the problem and its solution?
  5. How can this be implemented?
  6. Am I geared up for this?

These questions are to be answered clearly and frankly.

How it can help for one’s thinking process?

Let’s try to see how this can be used in our regular thinking process. The simple approach to start with is, looking into the 3 questions. We can look into this thinking process aligned with an example.

  1. What to change – One of the simplest thing might be to wake up early at 5.00am. The change that we are looking here is to waking up early. Instead of waking up at 7.00am, how can we wake up at 5.00am?. That’s the change.

2. What to change to – Here, the change is instead of 7.00am to 5.00am, what needs to be changed and what would be result. Basically, to arrive at a goal of what that 2 hrs difference is going to add by doing this change. The change of waking up early in the morning at 5.00am.

3. How to cause the change. – This involves what needs to be done, to make this change effective. The effectiveness of waking up everyday in the morning at 5.00am. Once, you have these three questions framed for your actionable goal, then you can apply the TOC constraint model to achieve it.

Taking the example of waking up early in the morning at 5.00am to be our end goal, let’s try and apply the TOC in principle to see, how we can achieve this goal.

Goal – Consistently waking up every day in the morning by 5.00am.

First step – Identify the constraint.

The general constraint for waking up early in the morning can be

  1. Sleeping late night
  2. Binge watching shows/movies
  3. Not having a proper morning routine in place

Once we had identified the constraint we can plan the steps to avoid these constraints. According to TOC, the critical thing is identifying the constraints. The fact to arrive at any of the constraints, are generally intuitively known to oneself. However, to note down those and look into those as constraints is what we miss most of the times. Thus apply the TOC in the regular scenarios, be it your commute or ability to focus or the issue of distraction or planning on a goal to achieve. Start with the 3 questions, and then capture, the steps. Once you had captured, the first step, let’s move on to the 2nd step.

Exploit the constraint

Assuming, that we would still love to wake up early, having the constraint in place. This means, looking at the constraint as the possible scenario’s below

  1. We cannot sleep early, due to work schedule. (repeatable work calls late into the evening/night) – Policy change.
  2. Binge watching to Reading – Activity change.
  3. Plan a morning routine – Planning.

Though, we cannot change our work schedule, probably we can look into the aspect of binge watching. Change of work schedule will be a policy change. A policy change can always have a profound impact when it is planned and executed properly. If the work schedule involves co.ordinating with various teams across the globe, for a review call; probably you can introduce a cyclical or rotational working schedule in place. This means, if this month you have to extend in to late night discussions, probably next month, it can be your peer.

Every action that brings one closer to its goal is productive.

As we instinctively know that binge watching drains us out, the best thing is how to switch to reading or writing. Though we plan as a massive change or complete shift from binge watching to reading might not happen at one go. The best, is to focus to reduce the time. Probably from 3 hrs of binge watching to 2hrs, and start reading before going to sleep. This can leave you fresh, rather than be drained into sleep.

The most important factor again is a policy change. This is planning a morning routine. Most of the times, we don’t have in place a morning routine. Thus the best is, to have a morning routine in place. As simple as waking up in the morning, doing 20 mins of yoga or meditation, 20 mins of exercise and conclude the last 20 mins with your coffee and news. Once we exploit the constraints, we get avenues to build around the constraints, if they are not easily changeable.

Subordinate other activities to the constraint

Link all the activities that can improve by removing these constraint. By waking up early, what are the relevant things that can go well. Some of the possible good outcomes can be

  1. Reaching on time to office. Not to get struck in the regular traffic jams. A 15 mins early start to office can help us to ease away most of the regular peak time traffic.
  2. A good healthy breakfast. The time in hand helps us to have a proper breakfast. Even the breakfast can be planned.
  3. This also give us ample of time, to do proper morning exercise. It can be jogging or running or meditation etc.

Elevate the constraint

When the constraint cannot be resolved, how do we still achieve the goal of waking up at 5.00am. Elevate the constraint, is actually working out the near term and long term outcome. At the same time accepting the constraint cannot be changed in near future; so working out on all relatable mechanisms to resolve the same.

“Since the strength of the chain is determined by the weakest link, then the first step to improve an organization must be to identify the weakest link.”

Eliyahu M Goldratt

When the major constraint of work schedule or late night working cannot be reduced, then the next probable steps can be reducing the time for binge watching. Also, look into ways to optimize your morning routine with a clear focus. Thus you get additional time to sleep, by the reduced binge watching. Also, the morning routine can be optimized not to be a rigorous one. It can be a planned one. A simple one with jogging and good breakfast.

This way, in near time by elevating the constraint, one can execute the best possible outcomes. Once the constraint is removed, then one can perform to their planned vision.

If anything has changed go back to step one

When the constraint is removed and the vision is achieved, the goal does not stop there. According to TOC it is a continuous improvement cycle. The best way to do, is go back to the routine again. When waking up 5.00 am has become a regular affair, then to look into the aspects that can be agents of distraction. Some of the probable agents of distraction can be

  • The checking of social media or youtube before going to bed.
  • Late dinner in the night. Occasional drinks.
  • Mind wandering through various in coherent thoughts.

There can be multiple other things. But looking into these, and starting to remove one by one, shall make the way forward for excellence.

The TOC 5 steps when properly approached and implemented, helps an individual enormously. It helps one to achieve their goals with more clarity and augment their capability. This TOC Thinking Processes enables one to strategize properly to benefit them to a greater extent. TOC is based upon one’s imagination. The more you apply, the better you become. It is one of the best ammunition for Personal excellence.

“Excellence prospers in the absence of excuses.”

Lorii Myers

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