The Theory Of Constraints

The Theory of Constraints states that achievement by an organization is limited by its most constraining process. Originally used for manufacturing, this has gained quite a following in my industry - Logistics and Supply Chain. Combined with 6 Sigma (elimination of defects) and Lean Principles (elimination of waste/redundancies) they form a powerful new approach to efficiency - that is managed aggressively, quantitatively and has made it up to the boardrooms of many a top company.

The result of the Theory of Constraints is that an organization must turn resources to its most constraining process and work to correct it and keep it corrected. Then move onto the next one. And so on.

By now, we all know where this is going - how does this business practice apply to our Dallas Cowboys? Simply - what is our most constraining process? You could argue it was coaching because ownership turned its direct and full attention to the problem. And while the results indicate improvement - probably too early to tell if are they stable and most importantly, sustainable. I could go on - penalties, turnovers, run/pass balance, but I contend those are too tactical and waaay down the list. I feel the glaring deficiency in our processes stares back at us from the TV screen every week and constrains us year after year. It's a process I call - New Talent Acquisition.

Exhibit 1 - Defensive Backfield: We entered this season with just 3 CB's on the roster and an untested FS who never played the position before. Despite being identified as a key constraint dating back to the departure of D Woodson, the organization ignored FA options and chose not to address this stated critical need in the draft until the 4th RD.

Exhibit 2 - Offensive Line: Again a stated priority in the off-season. Often cited as a problem with many instances/symptoms - MIN playoff game, short-yardage plays in SD game last year, critical lack of depth despite several starters missing games in prior seasons, age of starters. Only addition in draft - a 6th Rd pick, nothing in FA and a trade that almost screamed in its arrogance, 'this group is good enough because I say it is.' Didn't take long for that to bite us.

I can't speak to the solution, other than to provide a context to the problem. But I will pose a few considerations to frame the discussion even further:

The issues/constraints cited above have not been adequately addressed. I believe we can agree on that as a starting point. Where there may be some disagreement is have they been properly identified as mission critical and therefore worthy of time, resource and attention? For the sake of this discussion, I will assume a 'yes'. So the question is, why have they been deliberately subverted for other, seemingly higher priorities?

There's the rub. I think there are 2-3 critical considerations: the first is philosophical, the second revolves around competence and the last around culture:

Issue - New Talent Acquisition. Process - NFL Draft. Symptom - Best player available philosophy

Why does Value/BPA ALWAYS trump need in the Draft? Why does it apply to ALL teams? I contend the bottom/middle of the pack must draft/acquire for need, otherwise they are at a perpetual state of disadvantage. Top tier teams can afford this because they are deliberately positioned to a disadvantage in the draft and have fewer critical needs by definition. BPA in practice is also a contradiction - as teams routinely pass on BPA's when  well-stocked at a particular position already.

I'll admit it's a short-term approach - but that's what flawed teams need. Frankly, I believe the blind adherence to BPA has lead to an opportunistic approach that has served the franchise badly - it's precisely what landed us Roy Williams(WR), S Lee and I know this is heretical - D Bryant when more chronic issues were and continue to constrain the organization. The only exception I'd make is on the Dez choice because he does appear to be a considerable talent for the long term, but there is absolutely no way we can know that now. Mike Sherrod anyone? Fact is, we would never have made the Dez selection if the Roy Williams choice was correct to begin with.

Issue - New Talent Acquisition. Process - Talent Evaluation. Symptom - Poor, inconsistent drafting, FA acquisition

This applies 2 ways - the players we already have and the new talent we are attempting to secure. I could almost make the case that this is a critical dependency and needs addressing first before the overall new talent acquisition process itself. Undoubtedly, they are critically linked and the failure of one ensures the failure of the other.

Examples abound - and they are maddeningly almost too numerous to mention. But there are more subtle indicators than the lost class of '09, the chronic failures to find/develop OLineman, the plethora of LB's that couldn't get on the field or play adequately when they did. Why is it players such as Miles, Free, Choice and  McCann could only find their way on the field through injury to a starter? How did we not know what we had, saw every day? Why do our castoffs succeed elsewhere to a level they could not here?

Issue - New Talent Acquisition. Process - Everything. Symptom - Culture

There are stated and presumed levels of authority, control and influence throughout the process. Time and again we've see that the ultimate authority, ownership,  trumps all - which is what brought us TO over the objections of 1 HC and RW with the indifference of another. Those are just the most recent examples. I think the missing element is a realistic assessment of opportunity cost in these considerations - what else could we do with the resources being utilized for the acquisition of specific new talent?

I'm under no illusion as to the reality of this particular 'symptom', as in - are we just kidding ourselves here, is there really no solution to this problem, no addressing the root cause, other than just waiting it out? And does this issue trump all - meaning nothing else can really be addressed without this being resolved?

In business there's an expression - 'If you're not adding value, you are destroying value.' Well, the Dallas Cowboys seem to be the antithesis of that. Or is the fiscal value so divorced from operational success as to make it less relevant than we supposed? Again, I don't pretend to know the answer and while I can speculate with the best of them, that's what this forum is for. For all of those stating public apathy or fiscal distress may deter JJ from his typical MO, I don't see that as plausible. A NYT article this past weekend cited NFL popularity, viewership and merchandise sales at an all-time high by a significant margin. The networks, while never having made money off football, see it as a valuable lead-in to promote other content that does. Of all the utterances by Jerry this year (notwithstanding the deal with 'the man upstairs'), the most disturbing in my mind was the line about needing Parcells to get a stadium built. Not build a winning team. True priorities revealed and they are deeply concerning - in vino veritas.

In conclusion, maybe there is no conclusion, only open questions. Is JJ's 'agony' over this year's reversal of fortune sufficient for him to change? Are critical constraints ever going to be properly addressed while he wields ultimate authority? Can management find the organizational will, discipline to forgo the nice-to-have for the truly essential? Appointment of the next, permanent HC will be telling. Appointments for OC, DC will then be so as well. Who makes those choices and how they are executed will reveal much. On any other team, that would be fairly routine, but with our Dallas Cowboys there are 3 ways to do things - the right way, the wrong way and the Jones way. Stay tuned, it's never dull.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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