Theory of constraints: an application in U.S. Army's recruiting process.

Author:Kohli, Amarpreet S.


Theory of Constraints (TOC), an emerging philosophy, was originally developed by Goldratt (1992) to demonstrate how to effectively manage organizations and is based on two assumptions: (1) systems thinking, and (2) constraint management (Breen, Burton-Houle, & Aron, 2002). The primary focus of TOC is on continuous improvement which in turn results in enhanced organizational performance. It provides a framework for organizations to look at their operations decisions and identify constraints. TOC recognizes that constraints limit the performance of organizations and suggests how to best manage these constraints. TOC concept of throughput-world thinking (TWT) implies that the goal of a company is to make more money (and not to save money or reduce costs). Such an organizational mindset further stipulates that certain necessary conditions should never be violated when making decisions in a company in order to achieve the profit goal. A sustainable competitive advantage is noticeable when the operating effectiveness is based on capabilities embedded in organization's people and operating processes. It is imperative for all businesses to configure and manage their operations to support their business strategies and establish themselves as aggressive competitors (Hayes & Upton, 1998).

A growing number of companies in the U.S. and abroad have begun implementing TOC based operations management philosophy. Both books and academic journals have reported cases in which companies have achieved operational excellence through focused process improvement and effective management and scheduling of constraint resources (Cox & Spencer, 1998; Kendall, 1997; Noreen et al., 1996; Spencer, 2000; Womack & Flowers, 1999). Recent research on applications of TOC also indicates similar benefits (Boyd & Gupta, 2004; Mabin & Balderstone, 2003; Pegels & Watrous, 2005; Simatupang et al., 2004; Steele et al., 2005; Umble et al., 2006). Applications of TOC in the service sector are also being reported in the literature (Breen et al., 2002; Gupta & Kline, 2008; Lubitsh, et al., 2004; Motwani et al., 1996a; Polito et al., 2006; Reid, 2007; Siha, 1999).

Although the five-step focusing process has been well documented in improving manufacturing processes and some service sectors, no case study has been documented that illustrates advantages of using TOC for enhancing the tactical component of the U.S. Army recruiting strategies. Recruiting the best-qualified force is more important today than yesterday because our nation is at global war against terrorism. However, recruiting for the U.S. Army is quite difficult in the current environment of economic uncertainty (Borman et al., 2004). The youth either decide to go to college for education and look for jobs, or are too fed up with the prolonged war to enlist in the Army. The purpose of this paper is to present a comprehensive descriptive analysis of the sequential application of TOC five-step focusing process in improving the operational and financial success of Affinity Recruiting Station (name changed for confidentiality purposes). This paper comprises of four sections: (a) a brief description of the U.S. Army recruiting procedures, (b) operational analysis, (c) application of TOC using "Five Focusing Steps", and (d) recommendations to the management of the recruiting Station.


The primary mission of the U.S. Army is to deter war by being prepared to fight and win on the battlefield. The U.S. Recruiting Command (USAREC) supports that mission by recruiting sufficient numbers of quality men and women to meet the needs of the Army. Regarding this role as the Army's strength provider, USAREC's strategy can be best explained using a low cost (high volume) service strategy model. The facilitating goods of the service bundle are the individual enlistees, necessary to fill the ranks to the mandated end-strength. The physical benefit (explicit service) is the strength/manpower provided by each individual as he or she performs his or her duties in the Army. The psychological benefit (implicit service) is the security felt by our citizens by having a strong, highly trained, quality Army prepared to fight and win the nation's battles. The recruiting process involves low customer contact, but the Army's demand (USAREC's mission) is always certain. The recruiting process requires highly skilled sales professionals (recruiters), efficient processing routines, and standardization of the product (contracts) and process.

USAREC's service to the Army is measured in numbers. The Army gives USAREC an accession mission (quota). This is the number of recruits that must ship out to basic training. USAREC's service, success or failure, is measured by whether they are able to provide that number. There are three levels of recruiting: strategic, operational, and tactical. This paper will focus on the tactical level of recruiting. The tactical level of recruiting involves the daily activities of the recruiting force (USAREC Manual, 1999, 100-5). Specifically, we will analyze the process by which Affinity Recruiting Station, a four man station located in Kentucky, recruits young individuals to serve in the Army.


In order to identify the constraint(s) in the recruiting station, a nonprofit military service organization, we "need to reevaluate and redefine basic measurements needed to guide decisions and provide essential feedback on improvement" (Motwani et al., 1996b, p. 30). In this section we present the system representation of the recruiting station: a process in which inputs are turned into desired outputs through a transformation process. Figure 1 provides a flowchart of system representation of a the U.S. Army Recruiting firm, Affinity Recruiting Station.

3.1 Inputs

Service provided by the recruiting station is the provision of contracted qualified men and women fit for service in the U.S. Army. The primary input for this process are prospective recruits, men and women ages 17 - 21, grouped by their education status (high school seniors or graduates). These potential recruits are acquired through several methods including: high schools, vocational schools, internet, community presentations, one-on-one solicitation, referrals (from serving personnel, centers of influence) and special events. Human inputs (potential recruits) are a plentiful resource however they do have a distinct geographic component. Operational expenses associated with the service process are recruiter training and salaries, advertising, and special recruiting events. In this case, prospects can be considered inventory. The carrying cost of recruits can be described as the cost of continued contact within the process and the loss in recruitment from the failure to do so. In addition to the human materials, USAREC staff lease recruiting stations through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Recruiting stations are strategically placed with regard to potential recruit population densities and proximity to primary sources (vocational and high schools). Additional recruiting station capital equipment entail assets such as office furniture, computers, phone lines, copiers, fax machines, drug test kits, cell phones, and government owned automobiles. Most capital equipment is supplied through the Army's normal logistical system and is purchased using budgeted funds. Facilities are leased from local civilian owners and maintained through private contract using designated funds transacted through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Vehicles are provided through the Army's fleet of government owned vehicles.


3.2 Transformation

The transformational process from potential recruit to contracted entrant follows a flow shop process (Figure 2) as all steps in the process are dependent, the output is uniform, and the process varies depending on possible previous qualifications.


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