If you haven’t read our blog on the Theory of Constraints, give it a quick glance. It will provide you some context for the Five Focusing Steps we’re about to dig in to.
Remember that the Theory of Constraints helps you identify and eliminate the process or function that is holding your business back. The first of three stages is the Five Focusing Steps: identify, exploit, subordinate, elevate, repeat. This is a cycle that, when executed properly, will fix clogs in your pipeline and allow you to focus on other areas in your business.
All you’re looking for is the one process or piece of equipment that’s slowing down your overall throughput. You might have several problem areas emerge. Look for the worst offender.
Sometimes the constraint or problem in your business will be obvious. One place to start is to look for places where large accumulations of work-in-progress. Look for areas where expediting the process is a frequent occurrence. If you have equipment, check cycle times and see what takes the longest. Ask your operators where they think the break in the chain is happening. Remember, more than one piece of equipment or process will come up, but look for the one that is supported by both your operators and the evidence to back it up.
The most painful part of this cycle is adjusting to the problem. You have to rally all your resources and just get by for a time. The goal here is a quick and rapid fix to get your throughput moving again.
Pack your inventory to buffer against any additional delays. Make sure only good parts are being processed. Keep operating with the constraint. Routine maintenance still has to happen. Outsource production to another machine (or person). And if necessary, outsource production to another company until the constraint is fixed.
This is where you have to bring every other piece of equipment down to the level of your problem. Someone or some equipment has excess capacity you can tap in to so you can allow your constraint to operate smoothly. Whether upstream or downstream, you’ll have plenty coming in or going out despite your problem area.
Finally, you get to try and improve the problem! Review, upgrade, analyze, invest, put a laser focus on your constraint and try to break it, for better or worse. It could be costly, but it will address and fix your problem head on.
Either your equipment or process was fixed, or broke and needed to be replaced. Guess what…there’s something else to be addressed! Keep looking for ways to improve. The goal is not to constantly find problems, because there may come a time where you don’t have many. The goal is to always be looking for ways to improve your throughput and your pipeline.