Theory of constraints

From CEOpedia | Management online

Theory of Constraints (TOC) is a philosophy concerning constraints, their management and improvement methodology. It was developed by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt (1947-2011). Goldratt presented it in his business novel entitled The Goal (1984) and further described its application in Critical Chain (1997)[1].

Basic principles and concepts

TOC provides methodology for identifying limitations as well as the tools to improve and eventually eliminate the limiting factors. An organization is perceived as a system of interrelated processes, activities, resources and so on. Every system is deemed vulnerable as it always has at least one constraint. A constraint, also referred to as bottleneck, is a limitation hindering achievement of particular objectives and profits that may inform the system as a whole[2][3].

TOC offers the following tools[4]:

  • The Five Focusing Steps - a tool helping in identifying and managing constraints. We distinguish five steps here: 1) Identify, 2) Exploit, 3) Subordinate, 4) Elevate, 5) Evaluate. Continuity of the process is its main characteristics.
  • The Logical Thinking Processes - tools intended to help in analyzing and resolving problems
  • Throughput Accounting - a technique for measuring performance and guiding management decisions. It employs concepts such as throughput, inventory and operational expense. It shows the interrelations of these and how they impact the overall condition of an organization.


Types of constraints[5]:

  • Market constraint
  • Financial constraint
  • Resource constraint
  • Material constraint
  • Knowledge/ Competence constraint
  • Policy constraint
  • Vendor/ Supplier constraint

Benefits from the TOC

The main advantages of implementing TOC[6]:

  • pinpointing the exact areas of weakness
  • quick and effective implementation of improvements and optimization
  • foreseeing and elimination of any adverse side effects of changes intended to break a particular constraint
  • cost-effective maximization of productivity/ efficiency/ capacity
  • continual improvement of an organization as a whole

Although the theory was originally applied in the manufacturing and engineering sectors, nowadays it is a commonly recognized and widely implemented method in fields such as project management, finance and accounting, marketing as well as supply chain amongst others[7].


  1. Becker Professional Education, (2017) pp. 2201
  2. Mabin V., Davies J., (2010) pp. 630 & 631
  3. Schragenheim E., Dettmer W., (2000) pp. 49
  4. Schragenheim E., Dettmer W., (2000) pp. 54-6
  5. Schragenheim E., Dettmer W., (2000) pp. 49-51
  6. Techt U., (2014) pp. 15-16
  7. Techt U., (2014) pp. 15-16

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Author: Piotr Łabuz