Blogging is hard, and starting a blog post is the hardest of things, so here I go (I have snoozed my notification to write this blog post for two weeks now). In my defense, I have been extraordinarily busy as I and the team I work with are right in the middle of launching a new product line at Cabinotch Innovative Solutions. Being out of town five week in a row did not make it any easier.
So where were we, oh yes, we were talking about the elusive constraint at the last company I worked for (I still do some part time IT/Tech Support work for them). Have you guessed the constraint yet? I told you it was not the offset press, I also told you it was not the digital press, and I eluded to the fact that it was not the bindery. What could possibly be left in a printing business outside of the design department?
We have talked about physical constraints, we have talked about policy constraints. Do you suppose there are any other kinds of constraints? I found early in my Lean/TOC/Flow Manufacturing journey that in fact there are. There are Internal constraints, there are external constraints, and if you have to choose one or the other, you should always choose an internal constraint. If I had to choose between a physical constraint and a policy constraint, I think I would choose the physical constraint everytime, even though the policy constraint is sometimes really, really easy to solve (change your mind), but they can be a bear to identify. If I had to choose between an internal constraint and an external constraint, you can bet your bottom dollar I would choose the internal constraint every single time.
You might be asking yourself right about now, why would you choose an internal constraint over an external constraint. Well, for one very good reason. CONTROL. If the constraint is within the walls of my plant, store, church, warehouse, etc., I have a pretty good chance of not only being able to identify it, but also a pretty good chance if I have the resources, to not only elevate that constraint, but to break that constraint. If on the other hand, the constraint is an external constraint, it may be outside my realm of influence to elevate or break it. If I don’t control it, I may not be able to influence it.
In the case of the printing company, our constraint was external, it was something outside of the walls of our plant. Want to take a guess? Our constraint was the market.
If the market is your constraint, and for a lot of small businesses, that is the case, you are in luck. Of all the external constraints, this is one you can exploit. If you find your constraint to be an outside supplier like maybe your local electric company, say they can’t supply you with enough juice to run your machinery, or you have constant or rolling brown outs or black outs, how can you solve that (outside of relocating).
If your constraint is the market, then you have a plethora of options. Step up your marketing and sales game, draw a larger circle around your plant that you will serve, go regional, go national, go international. Many physical constraints are finite, they can only do so much in a given amount of time, but the market, the market is infinite, you just need longer arms and clearer vision. In the case of the printing company, we decided on several strategies, but the most important aspect of this realization that the market was the constraint was that now we had our marching orders, we knew where to focus our attention.
Several posts back, we talked about one thing affecting everything. Knowing what your constraint is changes everything. You now recognize symptoms as symptoms rather than root causes (poor cash flow is never a root cause, it’s always a symptom of something else). You no longer freak out when the offset press goes down, you know it’s not the constraint, and everything will be OK. You know a bigger this, or faster that is not what you need. You now know what you need, and it’s much easier to determine where you need to go when you know what your limiting factor is.
The printing business has since rebuilt their website, they have beefed up their social media profile, they have brought Infusionsoft in to manage their marketing and sales process more effectively, they have stayed focused on the constraint, and are no longer chasing a multitude of rabbits in every direction, they are now chasing one rabbit at the time.
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