Theory of Constraints 101

Theory of Constraints 101: Table of Contents

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Below you can find all the posts published so far, and a quick 3-point summary of each.

101: INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES
The basic premise of the Theory of Constraints as outlined in The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt; the definition of a bottleneck or a constraint; why the only way to improve a system is to improve the constraint

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Theory of Constraints 101: Applying the Principles of Flow to Knowledge Work

The Theory of Constraints is deceptively simple. It starts out proposing a series of “obvious” statements. Common sense really. And then before you know it, you find yourself questioning the fundamental tenets of modern business and society.

Eliyahu Goldratt laid out the theory in his 1984 best-selling book The Goal. It was an unusual book for its time — a “business novel” — telling the story of a factory manager in the post-industrial Midwest struggling with his plant.

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Theory of Constraints 102: The Illusion of Local Optima

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In the previous post, I argued that many people unknowingly subscribe to a defunct management philosophy: that you can improve the performance of a company as a whole by individually improving the performance of its parts.

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Theory of Constraints 103: The Four Fundamental Principles of Flow

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In the previous post, I described how many companies’ embrace of local optima leads to overwork and burnout for employees, and reduced throughput and profitability for the bottom line.

Before we look at what TOC proposes as a solution, we have to take a brief look at the history of flow, beginning with Henry Ford.

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Theory of Constraints 104: Balance Flow, Not Capacity

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In the previous post, I told the story of how Eliyahu Goldratt proposed time as a new mechanism for limiting work-in-process, using a new method he designed called Drum-Buffer-Rope (DBR).

Let’s examine how DBR proposes to fix the situation we left at the end of post #102:

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Theory of Constraints 105: Drum-Buffer-Rope at Microsoft

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In the previous post, I explained Drum-Buffer-Rope (DBR), the original application of TOC to production environments like manufacturing. We’re now ready to take a closer look at a real-world example that brings together all the ideas we’ve covered in the series so far.

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Theory of Constraints 106: The Five Focusing Steps

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In the previous post, I told the story of a software engineering team at Microsoft who used the Theory of Constraints to produce dramatic improvements in productivity.

But I hope something bothered you: how exactly did they know which changes to make?

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Theory of Constraints 108: Optimizing the Constraint

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In the previous post, I described how to go about identifying the constraint in a knowledge work organization. The next step, #2 in the Five Focusing Steps, is to optimize that constraint:

Identify the constraint
Optimize the constraint
Subordinate the non-constraints

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Theory of Constraints 109: The Psychology of Subordination

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Previously, I described how to go about optimizing the constraint in an organization. The next step, #3 in the Five Focusing Steps, is to subordinate the work of all other employees to that constraint:

Identify the constraint
Optimize the constraint

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Theory of Constraints 110: Elevating the Constraint

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Previously, I described how to go about subordinating the non-constraints of an organization in order to maximize its throughput. The next step, #4 in the Five Focusing Steps, is to elevate (or relieve) the constraint itself:

Identify the constraint
Optimize the constraint

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Theory of Constraints 111: Critical Chain Project Management

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If I asked you to tell me how many minutes it takes you to get to work, what would you say?

The number you thought of is probably an average. Sometimes it takes less, sometimes more, but most days it’s clustered around the middle. Let’s say it’s 30 minutes:

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