If you are into Operations Management, “Theory of Constraints” would be a term you are familiar with. It is a set of “thinking tools” that Dr. Eli Goldratt wrote about in the book “The Goal“.

Theory of Constraints, or endearingly called ToC, focus to identify constraints or bottlenecks in any process by considering the entire system, and then work out how to eliminate or reduce their impact(s).

It follows these 5 focusing steps.

Image from https://nowiamthemaster.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/can-toc-and-agile-work-together-part-1/comment-page-1/

One of the key principles that worth reiterating, is “by considering the entire system”. ToC is a holistic approach that aim to improve a whole process, a whole company.

“Any improvements made anywhere besides the bottleneck are an illusion.”

Dr Eliyahu M. Goldratt

That’s right! The things we can improve that have no impact are a waste of time and effort.

To further illustrate, I’d like to share my experience from the second last visit to the blood donation centre on Collins St in Melbourne, Australia. From my arrival, to the time I was on the chair ready to give blood, it took around 1.5 hours. Out of the 1.5-hour elapsed time, the duration of effort were:

  • a couple minutes of ID check, exchange of donor questionnaire;
  • 5 minutes of filling in the questionnaire;
  • ~10 minutes of interview, quick health check and blood pre-screening.

Once I was on the chair, it was another 5 minutes or so of revalidation of ID, and needle insertion. The actual blood transfer took a mere 6 mins and 47 seconds. Then they bandaged me up, and send me to sit for 10 minutes with the refreshments, to ensure I am well before I leave. The whole process ended up taking us 1 hour and 51 minutes.

So, which part is the bottleneck? What would you focus on, to improve?

Kudos to Australian Red Cross LifeBlood though, they are on the right track.

For my last visit, on my way in, there was a staff member greeting me with a chocolate bar saying, “It is 90 mins wait to the chair. Fully understand if you can’t wait around. Please wait on this line to reschedule.” They leverage the power of limiting Work In Progress! Oh – So. Much. Glee.

Sharing this curious find as it depicted the importance of seeing the overall system in deciding how to improve rate of goal achievement:

Theory of Constraints Explained (Truth #3): from IISM.

Now, do you look at the whole system before deciding what to improve? If not, why?