Subordination Consternation – Part 9 of 11

In the last OneThingLean Blog post, we talked about Step 2, or Exploiting the Constraint. Today we will look at step 3, Subordinate every other decision to the Constraint.

For context, lets review our Five Steps one more time (I may repeat myself often as it relates to these 5 steps).

  1. Identify the Constraint
  2. Exploit the Constraint
  3. Subordinate every other decision to the Constraint
  4. Elevate the Constraint
  5. Rinse and Repeat

In the last blog post, we decided how we should manage our constraint, today we need to talk about how we should manage all the other things that are not the constraint, so let’s jump right into the heart of the matter, subordination.

subordination – noun

  1. the act of placing in a lower rank or position:
    The refusal to allow women to be educated was part of society’s subordination of women to men.
  2. the act subordinating, or of making dependent, secondary, or subservient.
  3. the condition of being subordinated, or made dependent, secondary, or subservient.

Not this kind of Subordination

I know it may seem unintuitive (that may not be a real word, but I think you know what I’m saying), but yes, we want to slow some things down. We need to manage the non-constraints in front of the constraint (the things that supply the constraint) so that they never produce more than the constraint can consume (we need to SUBORDINATE them to the Constraint), which once stated, seems to become intuitive. Is there any point in managing the non-constraints to supply more than that? Is there any point in improving the non-constraints?

But like most things in life, to subordinate a series of dependent events is easier said than done. If the Constraint were always the first process, you would be good to go, but that is seldom the case, and even if it were, this 5 step process would change it once you elevate, and ultimately break that Constraint.

Although beyond the scope of this series, I think we need to spend a few minutes on Drum-Buffer-Rope. This is the most effective way to keep the processes in front of the constraint from over producing.

Your Constraint is your Drum. Think of it as one of those big base drums that you see in a marching band. The Drum sets the pace, rhythm or beat, how fast we will march, or in our case, how fast (or slow) we will make cabinets. As an aside, this pace, or how fast we make cabinets is our TAKT time (we may cover TAKT in a later blog post).

The primary and critical Buffer is in front of the Constraint to protect the Constraints capacity (in case one of the non-constraint processes in front of the Constraint breaks down, or is idle for the bazillion reasons a resource might be idle). We MUST protect the Constraints capacity, never, ever starve the Constraint. Some might find it useful to have a small secondary finished goods buffer as well to protect on-time delivery from a Constraint delay.

The Rope is tied from the Drum/Constraint to all the processes in front of the Constraint that have excess capacity to SUBORDINATE them to the Constraint, to prevent them from activating that excess capacity and producing more than the Constraint can handle.

Everyone marching in the same direction and at the same pace

So right about now, you might be asking the obvious question, what about the processes behind the Constraint? Simple answer, ignore them, they can’t over produce since they can’t get any more than the Constraint provides as they are fed by the Constraint.

Now, back to our primary subject matter, Subordination. Let’s not constrain ourselves to subordinating our physical machines and processes to the Constraint, let’s also subordinate our preferences and policies (written, spoken and unspoken) to the Constraint, after all, our instructions includes the words EVERY OTHER DECISION. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a cabinetmaker, especially those that prefer the term craftsman say “I DON’T OUTSOURCE”. First and foremost, that’s simply not true. You did not cut the tree, dry the wood, layup the sheet-goods, make the functional and/or decorative hardware you use in your cabinetry, etc., etc., etc. Everyone outsources. Everyone. Period. It’s not a matter of whether one outsources or not, it’s simply a matter of levels of outsourcing. Sometimes we just need to get over OURSELVES and out of our own way to succeed.

So if we return to our Step Zero for a moment and I ask you what our Goal is, you would rightly respond, to make more money now and in the future. We must subordinate our preferences and policies to the Constraint, and if outsourcing design, engineering, doors, drawer fronts, drawer boxes, component parts, finishing or installation will help us Exploit and/or Elevate our Constraint, assisting us in reaching our stated Goal, how can we defend a decision contradictory to that?

Confession time, Subordination was the hardest single thing about Theory of Constraints for me to do, and do well. I had to change ME. It was not hard to understand, I got it, I just did not want to do it sometimes. I suspect that it is the single largest factor in Theory of Constraints initiative failures and/or false starts. BUT, once I SUBORDINATED ME and MY preferences to my Goal, I never bought another machine just because I wanted the machine, I never hired another employee just because I liked them, or thought I might be able to find a place for them, I never struggled with decisions, the “right” decision was self-evident (would the item under consideration help me achieve my Goal of making more money now and in the future, would it elevate or break my Constraint)? Yes or No? It’s easy to make decisions under those conditions!

If you have not already, I hope you are beginning to recognize the power of Theory of Constraints, it’s ‘Super Power’ as it were. In my opinion, and I consider it a well informed opinion as it relates to the topic at hand, the ability to focus on what matters, and ignore the rest is the ‘Super Power’ of TOC. Master this one and you WILL make more money now and in the future.

In the previous article in this series, we covered step 2, or Exploiting the Constraint. Today we covered step 3, Subordination. In our next article in this OneThingLean series, we will delve into the fourth step, Elevate the Constraint.

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May the Lord bless the work of your hands, heart and mind.

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