Theory of constraints

This theory (more information can be found here) basically says that any manageable system is being limited in achieving more of its goals by a very small number of constraints (bottlenecks). Or if you want to simplify and put it into other words, ”A chain is not stronger than it’s weakest link”.


The theory holds five focusing steps to address constraints:

  1. Identify the system’s constraint(s).
  2. Decide how to exploit the system’s constraint(s).
  3. Subordinate everything else to the above decision(s).
  4. Elevate the system’s constraint(s).
  5. Warning! If in the previous steps a constraint has been broken, go back to step 1, but do not allow inertia to cause a system’s constraint.

How do you solve a bottleneck then?

Short term

You need to maximize utilization of the bottleneck. Let’s say that the bottleneck in your work process lies in analysis. You have one analyst in the team and he or she is sometimes forced to work up to 50% with other tasks. If you can find other persons within the organization that can handle those other tasks the flow through the work process will be doubled.

Long term

Invest to remove the bottleneck. To continue on the example above, a second analyst is hired and starts to work in the team.

What will happen then? Will you have an unlimited flow through your work process?

The answer is no, the bottleneck will only move to some other place in your work process. This is where kaizen (continuous improvements) come into place.


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