Five Focusing Steps

TOC applies five focusing steps as a process to get the most out of a system in terms of the system goal. Figure 8.1-3 summarizes these steps.

Figure 8.1-3 The TOC Five Focusing Steps

Figure 8.1-3 The TOC Five Focusing Steps

IDENTIFY the System's Constraints. In order to improve the system in terms of the goal, you have to identify what is holding it back. You have to answer, "What to change?" The system's constraint is like a weakest link of a chain; no matter what we do to improve other links in the chain, the chain does not become stronger until you improve the strength of the weakest link. It is evident that you have to find the weakest link before you can improve it.

In a project management system, the weakest link can be anywhere: in the project management process, company management policies, or any of the supply chains, work procedures, the measurement system, or communication. Since a project does not have physical form until it is well under way, the constraint is often not evident. Systems theory describes why and how symptoms may occur a long time after the actions that caused them.5 You also know that the symptoms may appear somewhere other than the cause, through cause-effect chains. Therefore, study of why projects have gone wrong may not identify the actual cause of the symptoms.

TOC identifies the constraint of a nonproduction system as a core conflict. Like any other constraint, the core conflict is the primary cause of the reasons that the system is not performing better. It is the root cause of one or more undesirable effects in the system. In order to eliminate these undesirable effects, you have to identify the core conflict first.

Decide How to EXPLOIT the System's Constraint. Exploiting the system constraint is getting the most out of the weakest link of the chain. There are usually a number of ways to do this. For example, in a production facility, one way to improve throughput of the production system is to change the way the system puts things through the bottleneck (constraint). It must ensure that policies maximize using the constraint in terms of the goal. For example, ensuring the quality of parts entering the bottleneck prevents the bottleneck from wasting time on defective parts. The schedule ensures that products with the closest delivery date complete first.

For a nonproduction system, you have to decide how to eliminate the core conflict and ensure that you change the necessary parts of the system so that the natural cause-and-effect chains that result from your changes will achieve the desired effects you want.

SUBORDINATE Everything Else to the Above Decision. This is the key to focusing your effort. While subordinating, you may find many assumptions that seem to inhibit doing the right thing. Since project management has been in existence for over forty years with little change, isn't it likely that there are some assumptions, policies, or artificial constraints that do not work well anymore? Is it possible that some of the measures used to manage a project actually make it less likely to meet the goal?

ELEVATE the System's Constraints. Elevate means to add more of the constraint resource, be it people or time. It is an undesirable step, because it usually takes time to get more of a resource (people, machines, facilities) and usually requires investment. When faced with a capacity problem, this is where most managers start. You should not start here: you should exhaust the possibilities of the first three steps and the last step before you consider elevating your constraint.

If in the previous step a constraint has been broken, do not let inertia become your constraint. Go back to step 1.

Continue to Evaluate for New Constraints

As you continue to exploit or elevate the current constraint, you always eventually unearth another constraint. It may be lurking a few capacity percents above the current constraint, or you may be able to improve the system many tens of percents before you uncover the next real constraint. This is not a problem; it just provides a natural strategy to follow in improving a system: always focus on the current constraint. This is the optimum continuous improvement strategy.

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Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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