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What is the Theory of Constraints?

Every organization faces bottlenecks, or constraints, in their daily operations. These constraints are often found in a manufacturing line when there is an issue with a process or procedure. However, constraints can occur across an organization, from personnel to issues with technology. The Theory of Constraints offers a methodology to help organizations identify and address these constraints to optimize a company’s productivity and profit.

The Five Focusing Steps

The Theory of Constraints focuses on five key steps aimed at identifying and removing constraints in the process. Instead of functioning as a straight line, the steps in this process are cyclical. This allows the company to maintain its commitment to a continuous improvement environment. The Five Focusing Steps are as follows:


This is the most crucial step in the entire process. Before any solutions can be applied, the company needs to know the core bottleneck causing the issue. This can be challenging, especially if there are a complex number of factors to consider. This is where processes like Total Productive Maintenance, Kanban, and The 5 Whys can be helpful in identifying the true problem.


What crude experiments can you do quickly and without additional resources to improve the problem? The idea here is to make quick, easy adjustments to address the problem immediately. Sometimes, these adjustments are enough to help increase or optimize flow. Other times, these small adjustments may not be enough.


Regardless of the outcome, it’s important to assess all of the other processes or activities that might impact the constraint. If flow wasn’t optimized, it’s possible that other issues exist in the process. By ensuring that all stages of the process are in alignment, the company is more likely to work toward the removal of the constraint.


Still, sometimes the constraint does not budge and more work is required. When this happens, the company may need to consider tapping into additional resources to help remove the constraint. For example, a company might find that a process is failing because there aren’t enough people on the line to meet the demand. If this is the case, the company will need to invest in hiring new folks to join the team.


This is a continuous improvement cycle. Once a company is able to address one constraint, the goal is to immediately address the next constraint on the list. There will always be constraints to contend with. Having a reminder at the end of the cycle to repeat the process with the next constraint is key to success.

Lean and The Theory of Constraints

The Theory of Constraints includes its own method of problem-solving called Thinking Processes. These Thinking Processes align beautifully with Lean methodology because it requires companies to address the gap between their current state and an ideal end state. When combined, the two methodologies can help a company both focus on increasing their capacity while also reducing waste and cost. With help from a professional Lean consultant, companies can identify the perfect combination for their continued success.