The Bottleneck Game

I’m not a Bottleneck! I’m a Free Man!

Session Objectives

Experience how the “Five Focusing Steps” from the Theory of Constraints quickly makes clear where and how to improve processes. Play with Lean and Agile techniques in a simulation. Apply the techniques to real processes.

Intended Audience and Prerequisites

No experience of Theory of Constraints or Lean required. Must have experience of the processes you raise as a participant.


The Theory of Constraints offers a simple but effective process improvement process: the “5 focusing steps”. The 5 steps consist of continuously:

  • Making the goal of the system explicit
  • Finding the bottleneck where the system’s constraint lies
  • Exploiting the constraint to get the most value
  • Subordinating every decision to the constraint
  • Elevating the bottleneck

The session introduces the Theory of Constraints, Lean and Agile with a playful simulation. After the simulation, participants apply the techniques to real-world cases in a workshop.

Duration: 120-150 mins for the simulation. 120-180 mins for the workshop.

Format: An interactive tutorial using a game followed by a workshop to apply the techniques.

Materials in English

Materials in French

Materials in German

Contributed by Pierluigi Pugliese and Martin Heider

Background Information

The GoalIts not luckThe Toyota Way

The Bottleneck Game overview Step 0: Define the GoalStep 1 - Identify the Bottleneck Step 2: Exploit the BottleneckStep 3: Subordinate to the BottleneckStep 4: Elevate the BottleneckStep 5: And Again! Don't let Inertia become the BottleneckStep 6: Change the System