While a review along the lines of “Goal readers are now doing the best work of their lives” might seem like hyperbole for most books, it is surprisingly accurate for Eliyahu Goldratt’s book. Perhaps part of The Goal’s allure is the fictional novel format in which it is written, setting it apart from other books focused on explaining a method. The novel starts with its main character, Alex Rogo, struggling to create success for a manufacturing plant making some fictional product and a threat that if they don’t turn the plant around in three months, the plant will be shut down.
No matter what Alex and his merry band of managers do to improve productivity, they continue to struggle with meeting customer delivery commitments at a profitable price point. Until Alex fortuitously reconnects with his old physics professor in an airport waiting lounge who offers sage but somewhat obtuse advice, all hope seems to be lost. It is Alex’s realization that a business’ sole purpose is to make money, and his struggle to incorporate his mentor’s counsel that leads the reader down an interesting and ‘difficult to put down’ journey to understanding Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC) methodology.
At the beginning of the novel, Goldratt lucidly explains his thesis and what he believes the goal of the business is: to reduce operational expense and reduce inventory while simultaneously increasing throughput. The goal is not to improve one measurement in isolation. Throughout the novel the author uses subtle devices to help Alex reach cathartic moments to breakthrough seemingly insurmountable roadblocks.
Alex is invited to chaperone his son’s Boy Scout camping trip only to find out the troop master is sick and has delegated leadership to Alex. Just like the factory work cells, the boys have different capacities and speeds, and one such boy (Herbie) turns out to be the troop bottleneck. As they struggle to meet their commitment to achieve the hike length in the prescribed time, Alex has the opportunity to see how Herbie’s placement in the hike order affects the overall goal. Alex and the troop discover ways to ‘exploit’ the constraint, i. . Herbie. This is done by redistributing the contents of Herbie’s backpack and assuring he is leading the pack which changes the system’s characteristics and allows the troop to traverse their distance and arrive at the destination just in time. The key concepts of focusing on the overall system’s goal, identifying and exploiting constraints (The Five Focusing Steps), and using a systematic approach to improvement (The Thinking Process) all centered on the idea of improving throughput are illustrated throughout the novel.
One example included adding automation to the line, a fantastic idea, given the way the factory measured productivity. However, realigning the system to focus on the goal (making money) quickly pointed out that automation actually hurt the system by creating large amounts of inventory downstream at a work cell incapable of processing at the speed necessary to accommodate the throughput offered by the newly acquired automated equipment. Productivity was up, but they still couldn’t deliver product, which in turn meant their profitability suffered.
Another critical management lessons mentioned in the book include how to improve the performance of a system by providing the readers with a replicable process that you can apply to analyzing any human or engineering system. The primary metaphor is improving a manufacturing process, but the same principles apply more broadly to other circumstances. Critically, the book is unusually good in bringing home the consequences of letting your business process run in a vicious cycle: Your family life may also.
The latter is equally important as the business, and it may even assist managers professionally. The novel twists and turns using threats of plant closure, downsizing and even a marriage crisis to keep the reader engaged, all the while providing simple illustrations on how to utilize the Theory of Constraints methods. With today’s focus on Lean concepts, the TOC is re-emerging as a useful tool worth consideration. A key outcome of focusing on value chains and system flow is and should be about maximizing throughput.
Goldratt’s “The Goal” offers the reader an easy to understand view into using the Theory of Constraints. The fact that the book is universally applicable, be it in production, accounting or organizational part of business, also lends credence to it. The techniques offered in the book stem from simple logic and common sense, both of which are needed in any business field, and it is Goldratt’s genius that he can shape simple logic into advanced tools to solve major problems.
Further, not only is the book applicable across business lines, but is almost time…?? The Goal is not the most recent publication, and one even from before the Internet era, but still worthwhile to read. The industrial world has changed drastically since the time the book was written, with businesses now having the ability to break up a process, digitize it and outsource it to various parts of the world where they can be done (for cheapest price and best quality) simultaneously and delivered back in one piece.
However, constraints and bottlenecks have not disappeared, and that is where The Goal provides the best solutions. Written in a fast-paced, thriller style, The Goal is the gripping novel which has transformed management thinking throughout the Western world. As Punch magazine says “anybody who considers himself a manager should rush out, buy and devour this book immediately. ” Need I explain more?