Have You Challenged A Constraint Today?

A childhood buddy of mine, Steve, is obsessed with Theory of Constraints. He’s worked in a variety of industries from Aircraft Radar Technician to Public Relations to Software Support, ultimately going back to school to earn his MBA from the University of Alabama with specialization in Supply Chain & Operations Management. A veritable Deming-obsessed Rainman, my buddy can link every encounter or interaction right back to Theory of Constraints like some nerdy Operations Management game of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon“.

Theory of Constrains, or “ToC” as the Hipsters call it, is a management concept that is pretty much what it sounds like. Consider that every process or system has some constraints on it that impact the efficiency of that process. To optimize the process or system, ToC thinking says that one should be continually and iteratively identifying and removing the bottlenecks. This from Steve:

“Every time you remove on bottleneck, the next one is exposed. Theory of Constraints is not about heroics or troubleshooting. It’s about maximizing and smoothing total flow—eliminating the gap-rush-gap. The succession of slack gaps and rushes creates what’s called a “bullwhip effect” in a supply chain. This is bad.”

Now, as simple as it sounds, there are volumes of study, dissertations, scholarly conferences, practical applications and indeed whole consulting practices that have been built around ToC. I certainly don’t fully understand all aspects but I know that it’s a decent way of framing problems. Similarly, there is a Design Thinking thought exercise called “Constraints Toggle” where a seemingly indelible constraint is removed in the hopes that it will reveal new opportunities or solutions.

We most often think of constraints in the way they hinder us, hold us back or cause us to not achieve our best efficiency. However, constraints can also be beneficial to us or our business model by preserving market share or creating barriers to entry for others. For example, suppose we are in the business of supplying industrial lubricants to manufacturing companies—we’re pretty happy about the constraint of friction in manufacturing processes. You can bet there are engineers who are trying to overcome friction as their constraint though. One person’s “good constraint” is another person’s “bad constraint”.

As I’ve alluded to in my past blog, I joined Applexus in April of this year with a specific purpose: to challenge frustrating constraints that I’ve seen over the years. In my career so far, I’ve been fortunate to serve a tour of duty in almost every IT role–from crawling under desks replacing 80286 motherboards to designing IT strategies with C-level execs at large global brands. All along the way, there were always annoying constraints that kept some serendipitously brilliant solution tantalizingly out of reach.

Let’s punch some of those constraints in the neck.

Year Then Now
1993 “Our server’s ESDI hard drive has crashed, the onsite DAT tapes are no good, the offsite tapes are on their way over via courier….oh, and the ArcServe database is corrupted. Better order some pizzas—we’ll be here for a while.” In less than the time it takes to have a pizza delivered…and for about the same cost of a pizza per hour, we can fail over to a cloud-based hot-site with RTO and RPO measured in minutes, not hours or days.
1999 “Why do I have to declare myself either a Developer or an Operations person? Why can’t I be some combo of the two as that’s more efficient?” Today we call this strange unicorn by the name of “Full Stack Engineer.” And well, finding a good one is not unlike trying to find a unicorn. However, through some automation, processes and collaboration tools, we can greatly streamline the development to production pipeline, increase quality, reduce frustration and cut waste.
2003 “You mean the only way to relocate our data center is to shutdown our production AS/400, load it on a fancy moving truck and drive it cross-country?!” High speed data networking has an entirely different meaning from back when 16Mb Token Ring, T-1′s or Bonded ISDN were the usual options. With AWS, we have several ways to get data into the platform, from real-time data sync tools to async on-prem caching VMs to massive forklift options like Snowball. Once there, we get single-digit millisecond latency between Availability Zones with 10Gbps speeds.
2008 “Why does it take seven days to refresh our SAP R/3 QA instance from Prod?” Through virtualization technology, system snapshots have made refreshing Prod to non-Prod significantly faster—and this can be done easily on-prem or in the cloud. The benefit with AWS is that we can spin up 50 simultaneous copies of Prod and terminate them as we please without needing the capital investment in on-prem capacity to support whatever crazy spontaneous needs our Delivery Managers might have. What might an SAP landscape look like with a Blue-Green deployment model or other continuous delivery model?
2014 “Why can’t I see a full-up integrated landscape showing me how ERP, POS, Website, EDW and Planning app all works together before I purchase?” It can take years of experience to have a thorough understand of how enterprise apps work in conjunction with each other. Moreover, the value proposition of a truly integrated landscape is often hard to convey to groups of internal stakeholders—perhaps each having their own favorite or familiar niche solutions. What if we could create an entire enterprise of integrated systems and platforms for the sole purpose of demonstrating how the big picture works through synthesized detailed transactions? Like a model train set or SimCity for Enterprise Applications? We can…and we are.
2016 “Why aren’t there more examples of integrating SAP landscapes with Amazon Web Services beyond basic Compute services?” Many people have experimented with or deployed SAP workloads on AWS. That’s nothing novel. However, through combining the powerful business process functionality of SAP with the extensive and extensible AWS offerings, we can create some interesting synergies. How’s that for a teaser…

If you have a Constraint you too would like to punch in the neck, maybe we can help.

  • About my buddy:
    Steve Hallman has repaired aircraft radar during combat operations on top of a nuclear reactor, created a Communications department, and developed pricing models for the steel industry.  He’s been interviewed for Adobe Software’s website, American Printer Magazine, Advertising Age, and the BBC World Service – Business Daily podcast.  He has an MBA with a concentration in Supply Chain & Operations Management, and is a Senior Business Analyst for a Fortune 500 global financial IT services company.

About The Author

Scott Pletcher's picture
Scott Pletcher
Practice Director
Scott Pletcher is Practice Director at Applexus Technologies responsible for the Amazon Web Services, Big Data and Product Development Practices. Scott is an experienced business technology professional with over 25 years in a broad spectrum of IT disciplines. Most recently, Scott has focused on Omni-Channel technologies and Innovation practices in the Retail industry.

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