In any process, there are limitations that determine the pace at which the entire system can operate. Theory of Constraints. is an approach that shows how you can manage bottlenecks and their associated constraints. A bottleneck determines the pace at which the whole process can work, whilst the constraint is the bit of kit or resource that causes the bottleneck.

By identifying and understanding these bottlenecks, organisations can focus their improvement efforts on the areas that have the most significant impact on throughput. The Theory of Constraints offers a five-step process to achieve continuous flow and improve overall efficiency.

The first step is to identify the system’s constraint, which is the bottleneck that limits throughput. Once identified, efforts are made to exploit the constraint by maximising its utilisation and minimising any wasted time or resources. At the same time, all other aspects of the system are subordinated to support the constraint, ensuring that it is always working at its maximum potential.

If the constraint still persists, the next step is to elevate the constraint by investing additional resources or making necessary changes to break the bottleneck. This step may involve capital expenditure, increased capacity, or process improvements.

It is important to note that the Theory of Constraints recognises that there will always be a bottleneck in any system. The key is to strategically place the bottleneck where it can be effectively managed or responded to. This approach allows organisations to continuously improve their processes and achieve better overall performance.

It is an approach that has an overlap with Lean Thinking. Whichever approach is the main driving philosophy of your organisation, understanding where the rate liming step in the processes exist along a pathway can help you to understand how to improve throughput. This understanding will complement other improvement strategies.

Leadership, engaging staff and using project planning will support your improvement efforts. A structured approach applying small tests of change (Plan, Do, Study, Act) with measurement will help you to make sure that any change results in an improvement.


  • Bicheno J (2004) ‘The New Lean Tool Box’, PICSIE Books, Buckingham
  • Goldratt E (1990) ‘The Theory of Constraints’, North River Press, New York
  • Hopp W and Spearman M (2000) ‘Factory Physics’, McGraw Hill, Boston