Coordinated constraint management vs. chaotic improvement

Constraint management is based on the understanding that the rate of throughput, revenue, or work is limited by a minimum of one constraining process or process step and management must focus only on increasing the flow at the bottleneck in order to achieve optimum levels of throughput.


“Constraint Management”, the phrase used by Dr. Goldratt in his book The goal: a process of ongoing improvement, is based on the understanding that the rate of throughput, revenue, or work is limited by a minimum of one constraining process or process step (i.e. the bottleneck) and management must focus only on increasing the flow at the bottleneck in order to achieve optimum levels of throughput.

Constraint management follows five basic steps:

  1. Identify the constraint – the singular element of your system or process that most significantly limits your organizations ability to achieve the desired level of capacity or takt time.
  2. Exploit the constraint – verify that the constraining element, step, or process is behaving as designed and is performing a function that is unique to only the constraint.  If the function being performed is not unique to the identified constraint then this element of your system is an “error”, or process variable which has occurred as a result of a constraint, so dig deeper, keep looking.
  3. Prioritize the constraint – all other process variables are the result of the constraint and, therefore, will be resolved by managing the constraint.
  4. Remove the constraint – increase throughput (flow) at the constraint in order to increase overall capacity.  Verify that the constraint is removed by evaluating takt time and the cycle time for the given step or process.
  5. “Don't let inertia become the constraint”, says Dr. Goldratt - realize that a new constraint has formed as a result of managing the previous constraint.  Return to number 1.

Dr. Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints is a time-valued practice that allows business leaders to focus narrowly to improve the holistic performance of their operation.  Over the past several years, as Lean and Six Sigma efforts have become more and more predominant, I commonly see and hear of Managers who are overwhelmed by the number of issues or problems associated with their manufacturing process. 

In these organizations, numerous improvement or Six Sigma teams exist to eliminate chronic problems which are perceived to be limiting plant performance.  If the operation contains nine processes in order to produce a single product, then there are nine separate initiatives, all focused blindly with no regard to the greater connection within the enterprise system, all efforts consuming resources and business leaders’ time and energy. 

Business leaders should stop and identify the one constraint that limits the entire process, focus all efforts on improving this singular bottleneck, and track performance in order to prevent recurrence before tackling the next constraint.

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