Michael asked the Group the following question:
As a high school principal, I am constantly enamored of various business theory. In particular I have been reading Theory of Constraints.
However, I always have to make leaps of thinking to match the business world to a government run, heavily unionized, non-profit institution. I feel quite amateurish at this exercise.
How do I figure out the constraint or bottleneck in the "throughput" of a school?
Is "the goal" graduation or is there more? [we are in a struggling environment where less than 50% of students graduate in 4 years].
I know this question references particular readings. I'm hoping that some of you are familiar enough with it to point me in the right direction or at least ask questions that will stimulate my thinking.
There were a bunch of great responses. Dwayne got it started by asking some framing questions:
Is the goal of the educational system similar to a manufacturing system? If so, the goal might be to maximize throughput of finished goods that meet the market need while minimizing "scrap" and "rework." With that lens you'd want a high percentage of students to graduate with marketable skills, while minimizing the number of dropouts and repeated grades.
Is "throughput" the goal? It feels right, since you want to maximize the effective output of the whole system.
Even if we take that as true, the hard part is identifying the constraint.
He also provided a pointer to an online chapter of Critical Chain by Eliyahu Goldratt, considered to be the father of TOC. Dwayne noted that Goldratt considers Critical Chain to be his most significant book.
Next, Karl noted that it's best not to equate the school system with a manufacturing system and he offered up some concrete pointers:
I think the most important questions up front are the problems you want to address. A manufacturing process is really a pretty simple problem compared to a High School. It sounds like graduation rate is a major goal. What about safety and order? College acceptance? Sports performance (cringe)? Alumni donations? Attendance?
The theory of constraints is a very rich field of thought that fits more than just manufacturing, but I would say the most important component of it is a checklist:
1. Identify the constraints
2. Decide how to exploit the constraints
3. Subordinate everything else to the above decision
4. Elevate the systems constraints
5. If in (4) a step was broken, go back to (1)
A couple things jump out at me here. First of all, you are definitely the best person to identify what is keeping your school from being more successful. And I don't really know what you would consider to be a measure of success, anyway. It is not important to relate it to manufacturing, though.
Second, this system does depend on feedback of information. If you are trying to increase graduation rate, do you only get feedback at the end of the year? Is there any way of improving this, by predictions based on grades, or a representative test every quarter, or something like that? I don't even know what the measure of success is, so I really shouldn't speculate, but this may be something you can improve.
Michael chimed back in to offer up additional context and followup questions:
We are an alternative type school that uses internships to engage students and connect academics to projects students do at sites and at school. So, if we connect successful internships ultimately to graduation AND we are having a hard time securing internships, I am thinking that "securing internships" is our bottleneck. That's the constraint.
Right now I have staff who do a number of different things that are not directly linked to getting kids on internships. About 20 teachers work on this with their students and about 8-10 others do administrative tasks and some ancillary instruction.
What exactly does "exploiting the constraint" mean in this situation? What about "subordinating everything to that constraint or decision?" Might it mean that I put a moratorium on all administrative and ancillary tasks and have all 30 staff do nothing else but work on securing internships?
David asked some clarifying questions:
Is the success (or to a degree) of your students dependent upon your staff successfully securing internships and then placing the student with the right organization? And are these internships dependant not only on the students input but also that of the participating company?
Michael replied that the answer to both questions was yes and offered up a link to The Big Picture Model which he and his staff follow.
You'll not see many references to bottlenecks on the site because they tend to focus on using the "Thinking processes", which were first mentioned in Goldratt's novel "It's not luck". They're incredibly powerful tools for uncovering and managing underlying systemic root causes.
Clarke has done a lot of work with these thinking processes within the field of software development and pointed to one of his weblogs as a resource for further study.