Sunday, April 13, 2003

Exploring the Theory of Constraints

Join me in an experiment in thought and learning this week. Two neat guys, Frank Patrick and Hal Macomber, write blogs like this and the three of us are collaborating with posts on the same topic this week. We encourage you to check out all three posts and I'd really like to know what you think.

The topic? The Theory of Constraints. TOC was articulated by Eli Goldratt in The Goal. In short, TOC says that there is a single limiting factor in any process or product. Think of a lane constriction on a freeway; by itself, it throttles the flow of traffic. To increase the flow of traffic, you don't make cars go faster. You have to remove the constriction.

Hal's post today summarizes TOC very well. Frank's post gives a good overview of a project's constraints and an excellent description of the layers of thought to speed a project to completion. These guys write well and explain well.

The question remains: why do I chose to write about TOC in a blog on Lean? Doesn't this confuse the issue? Does this pollute an understanding of Lean? My view is fully summed up as:

TOC tells you where to improve. Lean tells you how to improve.

I explain. For any lean application to be effective, our limited human and financial resources must be used effectively. If not, one ends up with what Jim Womack, author of Lean Thinking often refers to as "Islands of Lean in an ocean of waste." I have found that TOC does the best job of leading me to the points of a project or a process to which we must improve. Once there, Lean tools are the easiest to then actually improve it.

Some Lean folks seem to have a difficulty, politically or practically, utilizing TOC viewpoints. I don't know why, but I sense this in the Lean community. Maybe I'm way off base, but considering both is no problem for me. Part of the issue, I believe, is that TOC is pretty cerebral. Goldratt believes at the core of his being that management can be approached from a scientific framework. As such, it feels too academic for some. I have a hard time teaching it in a way that others successfully grasp. Constast this with Lean, an intensely hands on and practical paradigm for improvement. I find that teaching about removing waste to be much easier to get across. But in my mind, both are very critical and the combination is the most phenomenal way to approach improvement.

In my view, TOC informs a process from the top down, Lean informs from the bottom up. They meet very neatly in the middle.

Stay tuned for a full week of collaborative learning. Let me know if it is a better way to learn about TOC! We hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

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