Throughput Accounting: Theory of Constraints
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Published: Tue, 17 Jul 2018
Dr. Goldratt’s ‘Throughput Accounting’ revolutionized the methods by which companies viewed their costs and associated them with profits. Unlike the traditional cost accounting methods, Goldratt argues that accounting should seek to maximize the movement of products through an organization to eliminate potential bottlenecks that prevents efficiency and speed. Goldratt argues that the current costing systems in use were developed almost a hundred years ago based upon the business practices and business designs of that particular era. The traditional accounting system therefore can be understood in the context of a “Cost World”. This cost world focuses all aspects of business value and decision making upon the cost of products themselves. In order to connect all of the subsequent aspects of business to costs, very elaborate allocation of expenses had to flow through to products. These “cost schemes” in effect have many different errors and assumptions that impacts the accuracy of accounts and therefore causes misjudgments within management decision making. Goldratt proposes within his book that accounting should be viewed through a “throughput” perspective. Throughput rests upon three specific elements: throughput, inventory and operating expense. Throughput can be defined as the monetary gain a business makes from selling its products. Investment is the monetary value of all fixed assets which enables throughput to occur. Finally, operating expense is all of the operational expenses spent on producing throughput. The reasoning behind Goldratt’s analysis for the need of throughput accounting is that the world is no longer based upon flat delineations of costs. Businesses today, unlike the last century, do not commit the majority of their resources on factors, plants and other vehicles of heavy capital investment. Even more important, workers were thought of as variable costs because they were mostly low-skilled and thus easily varied through workforce demand. In today’s world, these two moving forces, resources and labor are moving in opposite directions. Resources are becoming much more variable and formerly fixed costs are becoming flexible as a result of changing workflows. At the same time, skilled labor especially in key high skilled industries are becoming much more fixed and necessary than before as well. Thus, allocation of costs to labor or specific products is no longer accurate and rests on faulty assumptions. The foundational principle of Godratt’s throughput accounting is that decisions are focused upon the goals of the organization rather than on its costs. All of the decisions made by the business can be related to their ultimate goal. Under this accounting system, individuals are viewed as assets rather than expenses, and traditional mechanisms of inventory and throughput are carefully analyzed and reconfigured to align with organizational goals. Goldratt argues that there are three fundamental relationships established through throughput accounting mechanisms, these are described below. Throughput accounting at the core is the “summation of all the gain from sales of all the individual products” (NOTATION): T= ïƒ¥pTp(p=individual products)
This is the first principle of throughput accounting. At the same time, Operating expense is the summation of the individual subsets of operating expense. This would include all subsets of operating expense including employees and their manager resources, interest levels, energy costs, etc.
OE = ïƒ¥cOEc(c=individual categories)
The role of cost accounting within financial analysis was to develop a mechanism to search for a very good estimation in understanding how production lines impact each other and thus impacts the net profitability of companies. Goldratt argues that cost accounting was intended to make “apples and oranges into apples and apples”. This would allow companies to have a true metric for cross-comparison. Throughput accounting solves the problem of allocation simply by dividing a company into product by product classes. It uses the formula:
NP = ïƒ¥p (T – OE)p
The reason that Throughput accounting is necessary according to Goldratt is that cost accounting has become too ineffective in forming solutions for modern corporate problems and diversification. Concepts such as cost drivers and activity based costing are both ineffective in their methodology in truly assessing corporate profit and stakeholders. These above principles make up the foundation of Godratt’s Throughput Accounting analysis.By focusing upon the mechanisms for consistent business improvement, Throughput Accounting works to eliminate bottlenecks throughout an organization and focuses upon how to achieve sustainable development through maximizing organizational goals rather than focusing upon costs and expensing. Godratt’s overall theory is meant to provide accurate business decision data that focuses upon tailored organization needs rather than standardized costing.
Despite the widespread acceptance of throughput accounting within the managerial finance community, it is not a perfect solution. Many different developments within the field have strongly impacted its sustainability and usability in the near term. One of these most fundamental changes is the concept developed by Caspari and Caspari called “Constraint Accounting”. While throughput accounting is often described as a transition from variable costing, constraint accounting also derives from the Theory of Constraints but is directed towards a systematic solution for corporate financial analysis. Throughput accounting is not perfect because it attempts to evaluate “global throughput paradigms” with the current local efficiency cost paradigm. Thus, Caspari describes throughput accounting as a “legacy system”, thus something more systematic must be used to judge global criteria. Constraints accounting can be understood as a global throughput accounting paradigm, rather than evaluate transitive states, global throughput decisions are measured through internally consistent metrics. Its goal is to bring the effect of identifiable constraints to the concept of profit and loss statements and effectively overcome the traditional management accounting functions of the firm, moving them to the goal of on-going improvement model. Constraints accounting allows for the recovery of investment in breaking constraints down as operating expenses at the same rate as throughput. The result is that it creates a means of “global congruence” through financial incentives to “bust constraints”. Thus Constraints accounting allows for aligning business perspectives in both the short term and long term through broad principles which is similar to the developments of Kaizen and Continuous Improvement dynamics. Constraints accounting can be defined as “an accounting reporting technique, consistent with a process of ongoing improvement and implementation of the theory of constraints, including:
- Explicit consideration of the role of constraints,
- Specification of throughput contribution effects
- Decoupling of throughput from operational expense
Constraints accounting has dramatically impacted the dynamics of businesses through the understanding of global perspectives on constraints decision making. It impacts accountants because it changes the dynamics within business decision making by extending a systematic methodology for examining business impact and bottlenecks. Constraints accounting focuses on the explicit consideration of the role of constraints and the actual throughout contribution by understanding the separate value of throughput and operating expense. Constraints accounting is widely used as a methodology for understanding future costs and controlling future costs as an effect on constraints. Constraints accounting impacts one specific area, organization wide consulting. While traditional throughput accounting mechanisms had consultants focus their attention on the limitations of business in their bottlenecks, CA focuses instead on the development of continuous mechanisms for optimized business practice. This has transformed how consultants analyze business functions by decoupling throughput and operational expenses. Consultants no longer pursue a specific understanding operational expenses and thus tailor their recommendation on how to decrease OE in order to take away bottlenecking. However, CA focuses instead on the specific effects of throughput upon an organization and how to instill continuous improvement at this level. Deviating from a transitive model towards a greater understanding of the global and systematic viewpoint. New developments and expansions of throughput accounting have helped to answer of many of the criticisms that have been leveled at this TOC (Theory of constraints). There are four main criticisms that have been leveled at the concept of Throughput Accounting. The first is that throughput accounting is just another form of variable costing. Second, that throughput is only valid when there is a tangible production bottleneck. Third, that it regards all operating expenses of a company as fixed, and finally, that it can only be used as a short term decision tool rather than a long term decision making calculus. Although there is some validity to these criticisms, the majority of them rest upon misunderstandings of how throughput accounting works and what its specific methods are. Throughput accounting is not a costing analysis in that its primary concern is with the relevant costs and revenues associated with a decision.
The majority of companies in the modern world still use a form of cost accounting as their primary management accounting system. Although this system has been used widely its founding premise is that if a company can reduce the cost of a product, then it will simultaneously increase the company’s overall profitability. However, throughput accounting does not attach cost to production. Rather it attempts to answer three primary questions using throughput accounting measurements.
- How will decisions impact the overall amount of money the company generates?
- How will decisions impact the overall operating expenses of the company?
- How will decisions impact the overall return captured by the company?
Constraints accounting answers the primary fault of throughput accounting, which is that it is a natural extension of variable costing. There is much truth to this statement because variable costing at a definitional level implies a transitive analysis of controlling costs as they are related to the throughput. The ultimate difference between variable costing and throughput accounting is that local decision making is based on the role of constraints and the contributions due to the constraints themselves. Constraints accounting eliminates the transitive view by taking on a global and systematic viewpoint. It extends the logic that costs are incurred irrespective of the different fixed components of costs and are better management decisions about product cost. Throughput accounting argues that direct labor is no longer considered variable, rather production cost is avoided by instead considering throughput analysis. Constraints accounting is the only methodology that can in reality be considered systematic and global optimum in its approach.
Constraints accounting also changes the perspective of understanding bottlenecks. Bottlenecks within companies are streamlined through the existence of throughput analysis rather than focusing on cost of production. The main criticism that throughput only works when bottlenecks exists is counter-intuitive, bottlenecks will always exist purely because production can never be completely efficient. Using the constraints accounting approach, a process of re-assessing the process of production and the constraints applied to them develops a continuous model for improvement that is comparable with the Kaizen model. This means that there is a response mechanism and systematic approach to understanding constraints fast enough to develop a counteractive means to continuously develop an understanding of constraints. Thus, constraints accounting seeks to continuously improve businesses even when bottlenecks are less noticeable, whereas throughput accounting focuses at the transitive level. One of the chief criticisms of throughput accounting is that it regards all operating expenses as fixed costs. Constraints accounting takes this into consideration by decoupling T and OE. This implies that throughput and thus, understanding of business optimal functions does not entail operating expense considerations at all. Operating expenses are for the most part a fixed cost because of the current state of world capital flow and labor demand. However, constraints accounting focuses on a systematic and global optimum viewpoint which disassociates these two concepts unlike throughput accounting.
Finally, the concept that throughput accounting can only be used as a short term decision making tool is also changed through constraints accounting. While it is true that throughput accounting deals only with bottlenecks in business at the microscopic level, and it is a transitive analysis that can be closely related to variable costing, constraints accounting is very much a global and systematic understanding. Since constraints accounting specifies the role of throughput, it takes a global optimum view of constraints and their function on specific organizational components. The implication is simple, this takes away the fundamental derivative of demand at a cost level. Which means that continuous improvement is possible using constraints accounting, taking away the primary complaint of the Throughput accounting model? The development of constraint accounting goes one step further than throughput accounting. It uses an explicit consideration of the theory of constraints to understand the role of constraints as bottlenecks on a global/systematic view rather than the transitive view. This new development within the understanding of constraints theory is a derivative of throughput accounting. It answers many of the primary concerns of throughput, and thus changes the differing leverage points of TA analysis. Goldratt’s original assumptions of throughput are very valuable in creating an optimal understanding of modern business practice and function, however it still contained many errors. From the above discussion it is evident that cost accounting is no longer the strongest and most credible method of managerial accounting. Changes must be made to this model to accommodate the growth of organizations from focusing on individual products towards integration of product lines that deviates from cost. Throughput accounting focuses on improving businesses through focusing on goals rather than on costs, this was a revolution within managerial accounting. However, many problems still existed with TA that prevented it from systematic adoption. However, the development of constraints accounting has dramatically changed the nature of the theory of constraints and its direct application. It has allowed for the use of continuous improvement models within managerial finance. An understanding of throughput and the theory of constraints have inevitably changed managerial finance and changed its direction from costing to focus on end business goals.
Goldratt, E. M., and Cox J., (1994) The goal: a process of continuous improvement, 2nd Revised Edition. The North River Press, 337pp.
Caspari, J. A., and Caspari, P., (2004) Management Dynamics: merging constraints accounting to drive improvement. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 327pp.
Corbett, T., (1998) Throughput Accounting: TOC’s management accounting system. North River Press, 174pp.
Goldratt, E. M., (1994) It’s not luck. The North River Press, 283pp.
“The Haystack Syndrome”, by Eli Godratt, published in 1990 by North River Press,
McMullen, T. B. C., (1998) Introduction to the theory of constraints (TOC) management system. St. Lucie Press, 320pp.
Noreen, E., Smith, D., and Mackey J. T., (1995) The theory of constraints and its implications for management accounting. The North River Press, 187pp.
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