World’s Leading Theory of Constraints Expert At 2021 SAPICS Conference

Kristen Cox is the world's leading authority on how to apply the Theory of Constraints to governments and non-profit organisations. In her work as the Executive Director of the Governor's Office of Management and Budget for the State of Utah, she achieved a 35 percent improvement across Utah's USD20 billion executive branch.

SAPICS (The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management) has announced that Cox is one of the exceptional international speakers on the line-up at this year’s SAPICS Conference. Now in its 43rd year, the annual SAPICS Conference is Africa’s leading event for supply chain professionals.

The basic premise of the Theory of Constraints (TOC) is that organisations can achieve more by focusing on overcoming specific constraints, rather than putting time and energy into unnecessary solutions that will not deliver benefits. “As a veteran public servant and TOC expert, I have seen enough to know that when faced with problems, people often overlook the core issue and go with overcomplicated, ineffective solutions. This results in significant time and resources being wasted on actions that give the illusion of progress but do not address the root problem,” Cox expands.

“When we understand where the real constraint is in an organisation, we can focus our scarce time and attention on the area that will yield the biggest impact. Constraints are simply hidden opportunities. If we learn how to uncover them and then leverage them, they can become our best ally. The discipline of not trying to improve everything, but relentlessly focusing on improving at the constraint is a fundamental difference between TOC and many other practices—but it is transformative. 

“Focusing on the constraint can be difficult because ‘good’ ideas abound. Opportunities to improve exist everywhere in our organisations. While it is easy to come up with a list of ideas for improvement, the trick is to identify which ones to spend time and energy on. A ‘good’ idea can end up being the enemy of the best use of time and money.”

In two books that she has co-authored, “Stop Decorating the Fish” and “The World of Decorating the Fish”, Cox offers a guide to identifying the right problem, setting an appropriate objective to solve it, and avoiding what she refers to as “seductive solutions” that not only won't work, but may make the problem worse. Stop Decorating the Fish is a business fable in which a town is facing a problem with its fish population. Rather than identifying the core problem, they come up with ill-considered “solutions” that include prosthetic tails to give the fish more power. They are literally decorating the fish. Similarly, in business, some organisations spend significant time and resources on actions that seem like they can improve the situation, but actually do not address the core issue. “They are decorating the problem without actually solving it,” Cox explains.

Examples of actions that are often taken by businesses to solve problems, but which end up just decorating the problem rather than solving it, include adding more technology, more data, more strategy, more training and communication, more reorganisation and even more money. “Seductive solutions may be based on incorrect organisational assumptions, such as the assumption that automation is always a silver bullet. Sometimes, automation is just decorating the fish. Spending money and time automating inefficient services locks those inefficiencies into expensive software and hardware. A more critical focus should be to first improve the process and then automate only what truly would benefit the system,” says Cox. 

During her tenure as Executive Director at the Governor's Office of Management and Budget, “Results for America” named Utah as one of five leading states that were effectively using data and evidence to improve outcomes for residents. “My professional purpose is to share knowledge and tools to empower people to achieve these types of results regardless of where they work or what type of programme they administer. It is possible, but only if we dare to believe it, have the willingness to set aside long-held assumptions, and have the discipline to follow the framework,” Cox states.

The 2021 virtual SAPICS Conference takes place from 24 to 26 August 2021. Visit for more information on the 2021 SAPICS Conference or to register.