Last week, I spent a day with Lewis Trigger organised by the Institute of Management Consultants here in Perth on the theory of Constraints (TOC).
Trigger is a global expert on Constraint Innovation having dedicated the last few decades to it, studying first under Eliyahu M. Goldratt who originated the theory of constraints (TOC) and more recently teaching it at university after practicing it in the airforce as well as various industries across the world.
Here’s what I learned…
Put simply, the theory proposes that any system’s performance is limited by one or more constraints. In other words you’re only as good as your weakest link.
Whilst TOC is typically used in operations and systems whether they be factories, mine sites or even the armed forces, it is just as applicable to service industries, knowledge workers and even in our personal lives.
Not withstanding the benefits of management’s focus on maximising strengths and minimising weakness when it comes to people (something I am quite passionate about), there can be great benefit for individuals and organisations to also pay some attention to understanding their limitations and rectifying them.
1. Identify the constraint
It is very useful for all of us to reflectively consider what is the root cause that prevents us peak performance – from achieving our goals. What is it that holds us back? For our performance, like that of any organisation or operation, is restricted by the bottleneck. For organisations, it is useful to look for weaknesses and bottlenecks in every area – personnel, customer service, innovation, communication, culture and values, etc.
2. Exploit the constraint
The next step is to alleviate the constraint. What needs to be done to reduce its impact on performance – widen the bottle neck.
What can we do to remove the limitation?
In my personal life, when I first came Australia, I really struggled with the English language particularly in my last year at school. It reached a point where it could affect my university admission. So I gave it my full attention to try to improve.
3. Subordinate everything else to the constraint
This is about re-allocating any resources and energies to get the weakness or constraint to 100%. Improve the greatest weakness so it is no longer a limiting factor in your life or in the organisation.
Turning to the example of my English language conundrum, with the help of a very supportive teacher, I skipped other classes to spend days with him working on my weakness – which was thankfully reflected in a satisfactory final academic performance.
4. Elevate the constraint
Here we try to convert our weakness to a strength. Often in life or an organisation, the constraint can be re-directed to become a source of strength, a core competence even a competitive advantage.
Reflecting on my younger years, I wanted to ‘elevate my constraint’ of English – so when I was at university, I gave it even more attention to the point I became a journalist – a journey that gave me great joy – even highlighted by a national award for writing.
5. Find the new constraint
Once the constraint is no longer a concern, the final step in the theory of constraints is to look for the next bottleneck.
What is the new limiting factor in our lives or the organisation? And we start the cycle once more.
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