In a creative environment, mixing paradigms often brings out the best ideas. So here’s one for your business. Theory of Constraints is a management principle developed not by a management guru, but a physicist named Eli Goldratt.
Goldratt uses a simple illustration to show how operational bottlenecks (constraints) arise. A group of 20 scouts face a full day’s trek to a campsite at which they must arrive before evening. They march single file through the woods, led by their scoutmaster. But as they walk, the line keeps getting longer and longer as the boys at the end fall behind. So they have to stop regularly to let everyone catch up. And they’re losing precious daylight.
After observing the line in motion, the scoutmaster realises that slower kids are causing the hold-up. It’s not their fault – they just can’t keep pace with the faster boys.
So he moves the slowest boy to the front of the line, followed by the next slowest and so on, all the way down to the fastest kid right at the back.
From then on, they continue their journey at a slower but regular pace. Because the slow kids set the pace, there’s no need to stop and wait for them to catch up. The scouts arrive at their campsite late but with enough time to set up, eat and chat before hitting the sack.
You can apply the scoutmaster’s method to production. If certain operations run slow, they hold up faster ones, causing bottlenecks in your work process. How do you fix this problem? Here are 5 steps to follow:
- Identify the top constraint. We often try improving systems but not where it counts most – in the weakest link. The first priority is to identify the slowest operation and focus on strengthening it.
- Exploit the constraint. A constraint usually operates below full capacity. Identify why it’s underperforming before trying to increase capacity – like hiring more staff, or buying more equipment or external services. Then maximise its output in any way possible.
- Subordinate to the constraint. Working faster than the constraint means projects will inevitably pile up in front of it. Slow work down to the constraint’s pace. Or outsource any backlog. But the latter is a costly fix and not a solution. Always focus on exploiting the constraint.
- Elevate the constraint. Once the constraint is operating at maximum, increase its capacity to meet demand. Now is the time to invest in more staff, equipment, services or anything else needed.
- Don’t stop! The top constraint is no more. So start the process again on the next identified constraint. But never stop improving.
Can you identify constraints in your agency processes? Could you apply the Theory of Constraints to the problem? It’s best to use a visual system to achieve your goals. Chase’s Project Management module with Gantt chart view and Chase Insight BI are the ideal tools for the job. Request a no-obligation demo from our website and see how Chase can help you break bottlenecks.