Today, I want to share with you the biggest inspiration in my life – the Theory of Constraints. Although it may not sound as glamorous as Scrum or Kanban, it’s definitely a topic worth exploring. The beauty of the Theory of Constraints lies in its ability to bring about changes while delivering much more value in less time and with less workload.
Before we delve into the topic, let me surprise you with something. My favorite movie is The Predator. I talk about it during trainings, meet-ups, and so on. Why am I telling you this? The Predator is an extraterrestrial hunter who sees reality in a completely different way than we do. While we see things in standard colors, The Predator sees things in infrared. This gives him an advantage in certain situations, but it also limits him in others. I bring this up because just like The Predator, every project manager, Scrum Master, Product Owner, director, consultant, or Agile Coach should also have different perception modes.
Throughout my career, I’ve had a few “wow” moments when I discovered a new field or tool that completely changed my paradigm of perception. I started seeing reality from a completely different angle. For example, Scrum, Evolutionary Project Management, Coaching, Lean Start-up, Kanban, and other tools gave me a new way of perceiving reality and allowed me to see things I hadn’t noticed before. It’s important to note that the more perception modes one has, the more one will notice. On the other hand, if someone has only one perception mode, such as mechanical Scrum, they may not realize when they hit a wall. They may think they’re doing a great job, but in reality, they’re not making a significant contribution.
For me, the most valuable perception mode is related to the Theory of Constraints. It allowed me to see many new things. So, what is the Theory of Constraints? First, we must realize that every system we deal with on a daily basis, such as a company, an organization, a Scrum Team, or even an abstract system like a marathon runner, has a specific goal and exists for a particular reason.
For example, a company’s goal is to make money, both now and in the future, as much as possible. A Scrum Team’s goal is to deliver more business value to users and stakeholders, also as much as possible. For a long-distance runner, it would be the shortest possible time to complete a marathon.
It’s important to note that I often encounter situations where someone works really hard and is proud of their work. They may do overtime and be considered a real work hero. However, in the end, it turns out that their improvements didn’t help the company earn more money or the Scrum Team deliver more business value. We may have new colors of sticky notes, cooler forms of Retrospectives, and so on, but the value is the same as it was before. In Jewish language, or more precisely, Israeli slang, this type of “improvement” is called CHUPCHIK, which means an optimization that doesn’t bring anything.
So, what does the Theory of Constraints say about this? The Theory of Constraints states that to increase the level of achievement of a goal, we need to improve the factors that constrain us. Therefore, we need to work on the constraints, and that’s where the name comes from – the Theory of Constraints.
To put it metaphorically, we need to find the narrowest throats in our system and work on them. Imagine a string of pipes where one pipe leads to another. We need to find the narrowest pipe and make it wider. If we make the wider pipes even wider, it’s a kind of CHUPCHIK a local optimization!
For example, in a software house, if a constraint to making more money is a lack of developers, investing in marketing or sales will not make the company earn more. They need to invest in having more developers. From the perspective of the Theory of Constraints, such optimizations are called local optimizations.
Working on the constraints is crucial for achieving the goals of the system. By doing so, we can introduce changes that deliver more value faster and with less workload. The Theory of Constraints can help you see the reality from a completely different angle and improve the overall performance of your organization.
In conclusion, the Theory of Constraints is an incredibly valuable tool for anyone looking to improve their business, organization, or personal performance. By identifying and focusing on the constraints that are limiting success, it is possible to achieve much more with less effort.
But it is important to keep in mind that not all improvements are created equal. Local optimizations, or chupchiks, may make us feel good and productive, but they won’t necessarily lead to the results we’re looking for. To truly succeed, we need to focus on the constraints that matter most and work to improve them!
So the next time you’re feeling stuck or looking to improve, take a step back and ask yourself: what is the constraint that’s holding me back? And what can I do to overcome it? With the right mindset and tools, anything is possible.