Theory of Constraints Step 3: Subordinating Everything to the Constraint

, Theory of Constraints Step 3:  Subordinating Everything to the Constraint, Future State Engineering

In our blogs we mentioned the Theory of Constraints (TOC) several times. In short, it is an organizational change methodology with focused improvement of the organizational goal. The main idea of TOC is that every organization, or complex system, must have at least one constraint. If there was no constraint, then the organization would be able to generate unlimited goal units.  “A constraint” is a factor that limits or constrains the organization from achieving more goal units. The goal of most “for profit” companies is to make a profit, provide a secure environment for employees, and satisfy the market. Theory of Constraints provides an essential set of tools that help to achieve the defined goal.


The Five Focusing Steps

The essential part of the TOC is called “The Five Focusing Steps”, where the key word is “FOCUS”. These steps are the cornerstone of the Theory of Constraints with its goal to grow profits through sales on the one hand, and control costs and eliminate waste – on the other. Speaking in terms of the TOC, this step by step methodology starts with identifying the constraint.


Step 1 and 2:

In previous blogs we talked about the Theory of Constraints in general and elaborated on the first two steps of it: “Identifying the Constraint” and “Deciding How to Exploit the Constraint”. This blog is dedicated to the Third Step of the process: “Subordinating Everything to the Constraint.” 

To recap, in short, the first two steps – every system has a constraint and focusing efforts on improving the constraint is the most effective path to improve the performance of the organization. After the constraint is identified, and it’s been decided how to exploit the constraint, the third step is to take the appropriate actions depending on the decisions that were made in step two – deciding how to exploit the constraint. 


Step 3: Subordinating Everything to the Constraint 

The focus in the subordination step of the process is on the non-constraint resources. By definition, all non-constraint resources have some degree of excess capacity. It is the excess capacity that enables full utilization of the constraint. Furthermore, there can be two types of non-constraint resources: upstream resources, defined as resources that provide inputs to the constraint, and downstream resources, defined as resources that consume outputs of the constraint. 

It is the role of the upstream resources to ensure that all the inputs are available for the constraint when needed, and it is the role of the downstream resources to ensure the outputs from the constraint can always be processed effectively.  


Work effectively (not efficiently)

Subordination is the most difficult step to implement because it requires a paradigm shift of non-constraint resources. In most environments, the current mode of behavior is to work efficiently in all functions.  However, under the new paradigm, the goal of the non-constraints is not to working efficiently, but to work effectively.  Working effectively means to work in order to improve the effectiveness of the constraint.  

For example, to illustrate this point: consider the situation where the constraint has multiple inputs required to do their work. Subordination means that the upstream resources need to supply the work to the constraint in a sequence that makes the constraint resource most efficient. This will require the upstream resources to rearrange their work sequence and to process work in order improve the flow of the entire system, which means improving the flow through the constraint. In many cases, this translates into the non-constraints working less efficient to make the system more efficient.  This is an extremely hard concept for many organizations to understand, let alone implement effectively. 

In addition, usually the current performance measures of the non-constraints don’t support the concept of proper subordination. Traditionally in companies there are performance measures that are in place in order to maximize efficiencies within departments. Part of the subordination step is to recalibrate the performance measures to align with the new paradigm which is: when you have work, work effectively; when you don’t have work, wait. 


Subordination is critical

As you can see, the subordination step is critical to improving the overall performance of the company. Before moving to elevation, which is the fourth step, proper subordination needs to be done so that the amount of protective capacity of the non-constraints is fully understood.   In the next blog, we will discuss the fourth step, Elevating the Constraint, and how to do proper elevation so the system remains stable and capable. 

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