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ECM, Continuous Improvement, and the Theory of Constraints

Posted on January 6, 2016 under Advice by

The adage “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” has become more and more relevant to organizations that are committed to an ethos of continuous improvement. Successful companies are constantly looking for ways to automate, streamline, run lean and improve the bottom line wherever possible. In order to further supplement their continuous improvement efforts, organizations should look to the works of business management guru Eliyahu M. Goldratt. Goldratt is a pioneer in the process and production management space. He has authored several novels and non-fiction works on the application of his Theory of Constraints (TOC) and I find his approach interesting and applicable to the implementation of modern, metadata-driven enterprise content management (ECM) specifically for continuous improvement.

The basic premise of the Theory of Constraints is that any manageable system is likely limited by a small number of constraints—as a baseline, these are found in the areas of throughput, inventory, and operating expenses. Given those categories, TOC is a popular paradigm in the manufacturing space, where many organizations use continuous improvement methodologies as part of their strategic growth initiatives.

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The Chain: People, Process and Technology

But the idea of identifying each weak link in a practice or process and fixing it applies more broadly—and when we consider the enterprise software market, and in particular, the enterprise content management segment, we look at different areas of impact: people, processes, and technology.

This grouping of elements has been used since the 1980’s when MIT professor, Michael Hammer wrote about the strategic impact of IT management on business. Think of all three as an integrated and complementary system to use while implementing process improvement programs, and from a holistic view, you need all three aligned for successful process reengineering efforts. Fortunately, TOC could almost be the purpose of an ECM system, namely, to improve the flow of information and make it easier for people, processes, and technology to work effectively.

ECM can support and foster continuous improvement when viewed through the lens of TOC. Here are some tips on how the principles of TOC can be applied:

“What is Measured Gets Managed”
To put the old management saying another way, measuring something gives you the information you need to make sure you achieve what you mean to achieve—making constraints a way to measure a system’s progress, as TOC tells us. What this means for ECM is the ability to add metadata and workflows to your information assets to convert documents and data to actionable insights.

Exercising Control: Constraints as a Positive
Constraints can be problems or catalysts for change, but modern ECM systems allow you to exercise positive measures of control on the system. While many see standard operating procedures (SOPs) as constraints to business, in well-designed quality systems they are proven to guide people to work smarter. With ECM, you can make those policies more accessible and verify that employees that need to adhere to the policy have read and understood them.

User Adoption = ROI
The most critical factor in determining positive ROI for continuous improvement initiatives is end-user adoption. Technology can foster data collection and analysis but the real value comes from motivated end users that see ECM as a tool that improves how they handle their day-to-day information management. Traditionally, ECM products were implemented for regulatory compliance and users were “forced” to use them. Users, however, rebelled and conducted all of their documentation “work” outside of the system. This was a problem we’ve addressed with M-Files. With our next-generation approach there’s no need for users to work outside the system because we’ve optimized user experience with our elegant interface, configurable, dynamic views and Windows integration.

While you’re focused on continuous improvement to advance your business practices—and profits—you’re also applying the Theory of Constraints. The first step is to identify the constraints your processes have. Modern ECMs provide an ideal toolset for not only identifying the constraints, but also in managing the mitigation process.

About Mika Javanainen

Mika is in charge of managing and developing M-Files product portfolio, roadmaps and pricing globally. As a Director of M-Files Product Management Unit, he leads and supervises M-Files Product Managers and works closely together with M-Files Product Development and Marketing teams to design and develop new products and features leveraging his long experience with ECM and M-Files technology. Mika has executive MBA Diploma in International Business and Marketing.

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