The Theory of Constraints – What is it, is it applicable to PHP and if so, how?

The post “The Theory of Constraints in PHP” is the editorial for the PHP Channel’s newsletter on July 11th. To stay on top of PHP news, posts, and relevant links, sign up here.


I had been reading The Phoenix Project, a great novel about IT (you read that right), which presents day to day IT and devops problems at a large Amazon-like company in a way which makes mortals understand the complexities and chaos of 21st century technology.

Without giving away any spoilers, at one point in the book the Theory of Constraints is mentioned. As per Wikipedia:

The Theory of Constraints (TOC) is a management paradigm that views any manageable system as being limited in achieving more of its goals by a very small number of constraints. There is always at least one constraint, and TOC uses a focusing process to identify the constraint and restructure the rest of the organization around it.

The Theory of Constraints can be distilled to the idea that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

In the book it was phrased thusly:

Any improvements made anywhere besides the bottleneck are an illusion.

For some reason, this resonated with me much more than the chain idiom. There’s just something about building something that’s ineffective that’s more relatable to me than breaking something that’s weakly built.

Factories and Browsers

As (initially) presented in the book and slightly dumbed down here, a factory floor was seeing a pile-up of work orders at one desk, with other areas of the factory working somewhat satisfactorily. Without working on optimizing this one desk’s throughput and by (either coincidentally or intentionally) upgrading the process that precedes or supersedes it, the factory became clogged with work because the former lead to a stack of products before the desk that had no destination, and the latter lead…

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