Theory of Constraints (Goldratt) – Summary for Agile

In 1984 Eliyahu Goldratt published a book called The Goal to help companies identify weak links in the pursuit of continuous improvement.

This overlaps into how the Agile works – in having the flexibility to identify what matters the most NOW in a project or program.

The Theory of Constraints is about seeking out the weakest link in a project, program or organisation and to fix it. Goldratt describes three core types of constraint:

Equipment: The way equipment is currently used limits the ability of the system to produce more salable goods/services.

People: Lack of skilled people limits the system. Mental models held by people can cause behaviour that becomes a constraint.

Policy: A written or unwritten policy prevents the system from making more.

Once a constraint (weak link) has been identified it should be fixed as the most important thing to do right now. Goldratt describes this as “breaking” the constraint.

To enable breaking of a constraint, agreement is the enabling factor, where stakeholders have to agree what the problem is, what the solution is and to implement a fix.

This approach is similar to prioritising an Agile Epic and to gain consensus on the Acceptance Criteria and breakdown into User Stories.

Although it may not be advisable to re-focus all your resources every time a constraint has been identified, there is value to be gained in focussing some resources to identifying and breaking constraints.