Sunday, September 29, 2013

What do you get when you combine: The Theory of Constraints, The Salvation Army and my Dad?

The Theory of Constraints (TOC) was created by Dr. Eli Goldratt. The theory was introduced in his 1984 book called The Goal, that became a very popular business novel that provided insight into managing efficient and effective manufacturing industries. Many managerial leaders know that the theory is that you analyse your processes, find the biggest constraint and deal with it. So for example, you have a manufacturing process of cooking donuts on a large scale. You look at your process and realise that there is always a 20 minute wait on a particular machine, because of a staffing issue. Now, if the 20 minute wait is affecting the number of donuts you could create in a particular time frame and thus lowering your income capacity, you have a constraint. You have identified a 'bottleneck'. The theory of constraints suggests that you should work on this bottleneck at first priority. This is change management 101.

The theory of constraints may sound tedious and irrelevant to you, but let me convince you otherwise. The theory of constraints created by Dr. Goldratt can have a huge impact upon The Salvation Army, let alone any other organisation that has processes in place. Are you ready

Let us consider a few examples. When we consider any proposal that goes to DHQ and then to THQ, we may simply look at the process in a flowchart:

Have an idea -> Write a proposal -> Submit to DHQ -> DHQ board meets -> Salvation Army Officer is asked to rework the proposal -> DHQ board meets -> Sent to THQ -> THQ board meets -> Sent back to DHQ to rework -> Sent back to Salvation Army Officer -> Back to DHQ board -> Sent to THQ -> THQ approves -> Sent back to DHQ -> Approval given to Salvation Army Officer

Whew. That was a lengthy process. Now are there bottlenecks? Using the theory of constraints, can anything be done to improve the process? Of course. What about the time between the DHQ board and the THQ board? What if one board met in the morning prior to the next board in the afternoon? What about the time taken to communicate to an officer of the outcome of a board? Maybe we should just give DHQ authority to make the decision and thus eliminating many levels of bureaucracy? I'm not offering solutions, merely highlighting the theory. The theory of constraints challenges us to look at the process and refine it.

Let us consider another example:

A new mainly music ministry seems to be going strong. The leadership team are supportive, and the mainly music leaders are fired up. I mean, from the outside looking in, many mums and bubs are coming along. The place is buzzing every Wednesday morning. But for what purpose? What is the goal? Is there a goal? Are we achieving anything of worth? Let's have a think. After some discussion, the mainly music team decide that their goal is to be a stepping stone into a faith community. Great goal. Sounds nice. The team sit down and discover they have a process:

Invitations, Word-of mouth, etc -> Attendance at Mainly Music -> Build relationships -> Attend Church -> Become a Disciple of Jesus

The discussion continues on which parts of the process are going well. "Well, you guys know full well, we aren't having any trouble getting mums to come along," says Lucy.

"Absolutely," remarks Barry. "The only problem is, no one is becoming a disciple of Jesus."

So, there are a couple of choices. Redefine your goal, so that it's not about making disciples. Then everyone can rest-assured their program is working. Or, find the bottleneck and deal with it. The theory of constraints would suggest the bottleneck is between building relationships and attending church. The team, once they have discovered this as a bottle neck, must decide how to fix it. There are many different solutions:
  • Instead of attend church, maybe invite people into a small group (redefine the process)
  • Maybe the issue is the perception people have of the church
  • Is the church a welcoming place?
  • Maybe an innovative congregational plant might be the answer, instead of what currently exists.
The theory of constraints (Dr. Eli Goldratt) suggests the following three steps:
1. Identify the constraint
2. Manage the constraint
3. Evaluate performance

Well after that brief change managment class, let me say: The Salvation Army must consider the theory of constraints. We must be a lean, fighting machine that aims to honour Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and that utilises its resources to its highest capacity.

Now, my Dad has a six-sigma blackbelt. That doesn't mean he knows karate, but that he knows much about operations management and helping organisations refine their practices so as to be more effective. So my initial question was, what do you get when you combine, the theory of constraints, The Salvation Army and my dad? You have a well-oiled soldier ready for battle.

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