I had some fun last week, re-reading Eli Goldratt's classic business novel, The Goal. I hadn't read it in a while, but I was surprised at how much of the "received wisdom" in the Theory of Constraints community was baked into the book that created the movement. I don't recall Alex Rogo and his companions attempting to develop thinking tools toward the end of the book. Maybe those chapters were added, or I didn't know what I was reading the first few times I read it.
Some of the familiar Theory of Constraints topics covered:
- What is the goal of a company? (And larger still, what is the goal of any organization?) It certainly isn't "to be efficient."
- Whatever limits your ability to achieve that goal is a constraint (mostly "bottleneck" in the book).
- Measures like Throughput, Inventory, and Operating Expense are much better for day-to-day decision making than allocation-based measures.
- Most processes of any interest have the combined problems of dependent events plus statistical fluctuations. It's not possible to control them by tying down individual steps. They have to be managed as a system.
- An hour lost on a constraint is lost forever.
- An hour gained on a non-constraint is a mirage.
- Wandering bottlenecks appear based on the way we operate, not because they are actually wandering.
- This way of thinking is a never-ending process of on-going improvement (POOGI).
- The socratic method of using careful questions to guide a discussion and guide thinking.
- What is does it mean to be "satisfied" in one's life? This question doesn't come up directly, but several of the characters in the book get to talk about what they'd really like to do or learn -- what would make them satisfied. This is a topic Eli Goldratt and others in the TOC community have come back to again and again.
For those that haven't read it before, The Goal is the business novel that presumably started them all. Alex Rogo runs a plant that is falling off the rails, and he has only three months to turn it around. His guru, Jonah - not so loosely based on Eli Goldratt - leads Alex through a number of questions and thought experiments to pull the plant back into the black. On the journey, he discovers that much of the common practice in business doesn't make so much sense when you look at it from a new vantage point. There is a 10-minute extract of The Goal movie on YouTube.