Theory of constraints is a powerful methodology for improving the operation of a business or a process in general, based on the principle that every process is inherently limited by a set of constraints. It therefore aims to help you identify those constraints and figure out how you can work around them, and it provides a set of tools to effectively ensure that you’re moving in the right direction. There are several steps that you should follow to ensure that your implementation of TOC is correct and that it will lead to serious improvements in your operations:
Step 1: Identify the constraints
As you’re probably guessing, the first step is to identify the exact constraints you’re working with. This is sometimes the trickiest step, but also the one that has the biggest potential to make your work easier if you get it right. If you successfully identify every constraint in effect within your system, your application of TOC can be much more effective and you can expect to get significantly better results. Sometimes you’re going to want to invest as much effort as possible in just this step alone.
Step 2: Come up with a plan for working with those constraints
Next up, you’ll need to figure out exactly what you’re going to do about those constraints. It’s important to keep in mind that you’re trying to push towards extending those constraints without actually breaking them here, and this is where many leaders get the whole TOC process wrong. It can actually be quite tricky to ensure that you don’t go over those limits, and you will need to be careful and analyze the situation as much as possible before making any serious moves.
Step 3: Ensure that every process is aligned with step 2
Everything you do from here on has to be aligned with the decisions you made in the previous step. You should adjust your operations so that you are always moving towards pushing the constraints, even in cases where this might lead to temporary reductions of productivity in some areas of your operation. Make sure that you analyze the results of those actions carefully though, as you’ll need to know whether you’re actually moving in the right direction, or making things even worse. That’s where you’re going to need a good system for analyzing your current processes.
Step 4: Extend the constraints
Once you’ve figured out everything related to the above steps, it’s time to actually start pushing the constraints outwards. It’s a good idea to do this in smaller increments over time instead of all at once, as sometimes you might discover some unexpected side effects from extending those constraints. As long as you take things slowly and in measured steps, and you also make sure to record the results of those steps properly, you should see significant improvements in your operations, and you will be able to build on those in your next steps.
Step 5: Check for any violated constraints and go back to step 1 if necessary
Lastly, you will want to make sure that you haven’t violated any constraints during the above steps. There are different ways to do that depending on what your operations are exactly, and what constraints you’re specifically trying to work around, but as long as you’re familiar with your standard procedures, you should be able to have a good overview of where you are with regards to those constraints. Keep in mind that if you’re close to the edge with one of them but haven’t quite pushed beyond it, you should probably keep going – the problem is when you’re actually over the limit, and that’s what you’re trying to verify.