Focus on the Constraint

What if you can’t simply reallocate resources to maximize flow because the constraint is the process or a machine itself?  Sometimes it takes a little more creativity to identify how to exploit the constraint (the drum), but just because a machine is the constraint does not mean the fix is more expensive equipment.  The key to unlocking more output is to focus on the constraint.  By focus, I mean FOCUS.  Get a deep understanding of what is really happening at the constraint.

In my first blog post of this series, I discussed the importance of making the invisible visible to ensure any changes you make to the process will affect the overall system.  Now that you know what is limiting your output, do not accept it as a fact of nature, without the possibility of resolution.  While the constraint is now obvious, the solution may not be.

Here are some questions to find more capacity:

Are some operations being done sequentially that could be done in parallel?


Often, work processes are designed to make it “simple” or reduce labor content.  When it’s the constraint resource, the economics of process design are turned upside down.  Remember, an hour lost at the constraint is an hour lost for the entire system.

Are maintenance operations being done when it is most advantageous to the resource?


Maintenance staff are not omniscient (unless you ask them if they are).  They do not know the impact of doing maintenance during production times.  They do not know that if there’s a breakdown, this is the MOST important machine in the building.  An hour lost at the constraint is an hour lost…

Does the constraint ever wait for work?  Or anything else?


The largest opportunity is eliminating wait time.  Waiting for inspection.  Waiting for material.  Waiting for the engineer.  Waiting, waiting, waiting.  Not making money.  Not serving your customers.  Do what you can to ensure a constant buffer of work – ready work – in front of the resource.  Again, this doesn’t happen by accident, someone must manage it.  It’s a task – an activity.  Not something that you do once and forget it.

BP needed oil skimmers that removed contaminants from the surface of water to clean up the Gulf of Mexico.  These are typically complex machines and are sometimes a specialized seagoing vessel.  During our work on the spill, we worked with a number of suppliers.

The president of one of those companies, said, “Before you arrived in Seattle to work with us, we had a production process in place that was scheduled to deliver fifteen (15) Oil Skimmers to BP by early November.  After your efforts to work with the Kvichak Team and our supply chain we implemented improvements where we were able to build and deliver twice the Oil Skimmers to BP in half the time with no loss of quality.

Pinnacle consultants saw that the constraint was welding. The production came to a stop while welders came on the vessel, for obvious safety reasons, but these interruptions delayed construction by as much as two days.  The policy was in place to ensure safety, and welders were skilled workers with no extra capacity and also not much extra room on the vessels for additional personnel.  By isolating the constraint, we were able to find a solution while still fulfilling the necessary condition of safety and quality.

Read how we achieved great results by focusing on the constraint in lesson 3 in our eBook, Achieving Top Performance Under the Worst Conditions: 7 Lessons Learned from a Disaster. 

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