The Lean Olympics

image of cyclists in velodrome

At the velodrome – applying Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC) to the Team Pursuit.

The Theory of Constraints (TOC) is a suite of management concepts developed by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt – introduced in his book ‘The Goal’ in 1984.

In the book, the Plant Manager and Operations Management Team had to decide on what and how to improve the production process, output performance and profitability at a manufacturing plant that was under threat.

They had a deadline of 90 days. It’s a thriller!

When I was studying for my Masters in Lean Supply Chain Management – I found the learnings from the book both insightful and practical. The book was also enjoyable to read!

TOC systematically focuses efforts, energy and attention on the ‘system constraint’ or ‘bottleneck’ which restricts the output of the entire system whilst at the same time represents the primary leverage point for improvement.

In business, removing a constraint results in improvements to:

  • On-Time In-Full (OTIF) delivery to customers
  • Elimination of stock-outs across the supply chain
  • Better control over operations and far less firefighting
  • Reduced cycle times and therefore inventories
  • Rapid response culture and fewer chronic conflicts between team members
  • Exposing additional capacity without investment
  • Higher Net Profit, ROCE & Free Cash Flow

To accomplish this, TOC shifts the focus of management from the optimisation of separate assets, functions and resources to increasing the flow of throughput generated by the entire system. TOC’s key processes are focused on to remove barriers that prevent each part from working together as an integrated whole.

So how does this link to the Olympics and in particular the team cycling events in the velodrome?

For the Team Pursuit – both men’s and women’s events are competed over a distance of 4 km, by a team of 4 riders. The objective is to cover the distance in the fastest time or to catch and overtake the other team. The 4 riders in a team follow each other closely in line, although their sequence/position changes during the race. Relating to the TOC – the position of the third rider is pivotal because final times are measured as this team member’s front wheel crosses the finishing line. Since the winning team is decided by the third rider, it is common for one rider to take a “death pull,” where he or she rides so hard that they cannot maintain the group-pace afterwards. This allows their team-mates to briefly recover behind him before they make a final three-man acceleration towards the finish line – hopefully winning a medal for GB!

Similarly, in road racing, there is the Team Time Trial. In the Tour De France for example, each team has 9 rider and these teams race against the clock to set the fastest time. Their time is recorded when the front wheel of the 5th rider crosses the finishing line.

The types of constraints experienced in business operations when compared to elite sports may not be that far apart! Judge for yourself:

  • Inputs such as materials, machinery and equipment – effective maintenance of equipment is particularly important for cyclists
  • Skills and capability of the work force – for riders and support team who maintain the bikes, provide nutrition and physio etc – the total productive maintenance of an elite cyclist is a topic all of its own!
  • Defined roles and responsibilities of individuals within the operations plan or race plan
  • Visual management and effective communications
  • Policies, rules, standards, plans and procedures

So when you are enjoying the Olympics, cheering your team on to win the highly prized Gold, Silver and Bronze medals, why not reflect on the similarities between your business and elite sports …… you may see things differently and it may help your continuous improvement plans …..

If you would like to know more about how S A Partners can help with your improvement plans, please contact us.