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What Is 'Constraint'?

A system's performance is limited by the availability of critical input. Eliminate the Constraint and performance will improve.

These are Goldratt's five steps to alleviate a Constraint:

  1. Identification: find the limiting factor.
  2. Exploitation: make sure that the resources related to the Constraint aren't wasted.
  3. Subordination: redesign the system to support the Constraint.
  4. Elevation: permanently increase the capacity of the Constraint.
  5. Re-evalution: after making a change, reevaluate a system to see where's the Constraint.

The more quickly you move through these steps, the more your system's Throughput will improve.

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Constraints'

The performance of a system is always limited by the availability of a critical input.

Alleviate the Constraint, and the system's performance will improve.

In The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, Eliyhu Goldratt explains what he calls the "Theory of Constraints": any manageable system is always limited in achieving more of its goal by at least one constraint.

If you can identify the constraint and alleviate it, it's possible to increase the Throughput of the system.

Creating or increasing the size of a Stock in front of a constraint can help alleviate the issue. If you're constantly running out of engines, increasing the slack in your engine stock is the best way to alleviate the constraint. By ensuring the constraint isn't "starved," you can increase the performance of the entire system.

In order to find and alleviate a constraint, Goldratt proposes the "Five Focusing Steps," a method you can use to improve the throughput of any system:

1. Identification: examining the system to find the limiting factor.

If your automotive assembly line is constantly waiting on engines in order to proceed, engines are your constraint.

2. Exploitation: ensuring the resources related to the constraint aren't wasted.

If the employees responsible for making engines are also building windshields or engine production stops during lunchtime, Exploiting the constraint would be ensuring the engine employees spend 100% of their available time and energy producing engines, and having them work in shifts so breaks can be taken without slowing down production.

3. Subordination: re-designing the entire system to support the constraint.

Let's assume you've done everything you can to get the most out of the engine production system, but you're still behind.

Subordination would be re-arranging the factory so everything needed to build the engine is close at hand, instead of requiring certain materials to come from the other end of the factory.

Other subsystems may have to move or lose resources, but that's not a huge deal, since they're not the constraint.

4. Elevation: permanently increasing the capacity of the constraint.

In the case of the factory, elevation would be buying another engine-making machine and hiring more workers to operate it.

Elevation is typically very effective, but it's expensive-you don't want to spend millions on more equipment if you don't have to.

That's why Exploitation and Subordination come first: you can often alleviate a constraint quickly, without resorting to spending more money.

5. Re-Evaluation: after making a change, re-evaluating the system to see where the constraint is located.

Inertia is your enemy: don't assume engines will always be the constraint: once you make a few changes, the limiting factor might become windshields.

In that case, it doesn't make sense to continue focusing on increasing engine production-the system won't improve until windshields become the focus of improvement.

The "Five Focusing Steps" are very similar to Iteration Velocity-the more quickly you move through this process and the more cycles you complete, the more your system's Throughput will improve.

Questions About 'Constraints'


"Once you eliminate your number one problem, number two gets a promotion."

Gerald Weinberg, consultant and author of The Secrets of Consulting


From Chapter 9:

Understanding Systems


https://personalmba.com/constraint/



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The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

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