By Dave Donald
So, if I told you that you would be engrossed in a book written by an Israeli physicist you may give me the benefit of the doubt. If I went on to explain how the book details the effort to apply the laws of physics to the American manufacturing process, I would probably lose you in a glassy-eyed stare. So I’m asking you to trust me. You will not be disappointed.
The Goal, originally published in 1984 and revised several times through 2014, is a life-changer. Once you read it you will simply see things differently. The insights found within can be applied to virtually every process in your life. Anything that operates as a system, and so much of our daily life falls into that category, can be improved by the principles Goldratt so eloquently describes.
Don’t be deceived by the cover, which makes the book look like a text book from some MBA program. This is most certainly not the case. The Goal is a novel; a work of fiction with an intriguing narrative. I have stated previously that the emotional impact of stories creates memory triggers that allow us to retain critical information. Goldratt does this with such alacrity that this is an absolute page-turner. I found myself staying up far too late just to read a few more pages or complete a particular section.
The story involves a man, Alex Rogo, who has been tasked with turning around a manufacturing plant that is underperforming and in danger of being shut down. As he runs into various challenges, he turns to his former physics professor and mentor, Jonah, for advice. As the best teachers do, Jonah rarely offers solutions. Instead, he asks questions. The result of these inquires lead the man to more than just answers, rather they expose revelations that, properly applied, change the face of the business.
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The entire volume revolves around the introduction of Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints, in which not input nor output are the focus, but rather throughput. Through a series of what appear to be unrelated examples, he illustrates how effective and powerful any process can become when we identify and address the bottlenecks that hinder the entire endeavor. This concept may appear to be very elementary and self-evident; however, once you have read and digested the wisdom contained herein, you will be blessed with solutions to problems of which you weren’t even aware.
Goldratt’s scientific mentality is illuminating. Not that he believes he has all the answers, quite the opposite. In fact, he states, “I view science as nothing more than an understanding of the way the world is and why it is that way. At any given time, our scientific knowledge is simply the current state of the art of our understanding. I do not believe in absolute truths. I fear such beliefs because they block the search for better understanding.” And his search for understanding is absolutely relentless.
So let’s take a closer look at this Theory of Constraints. One of the key components of the theory is the bottleneck. “A bottleneck is any resource whose capacity is equal to or less than the demand placed upon it. And a non-bottleneck is any resource whose capacity is greater than the demand placed on it.” says Goldratt.
Here is an excellent example he gives of this concept. Alex is on a hike with his son’s Boy Scout troop. The object is to get the entire troop to the campsite. Alex takes up a position at the rear of the line so as to avoid any boys being left behind. Of course, the fastest boys take off at a run and leave Herbie, the chubby scout, at the back of the pack. Now the scouts are spread out over a long section of the path and Alex is yelling for them to come back to the group. This accordion stretch and compression repeats itself until Alex has the boys pause for a water break. He has been considering Jonah’s thoughts on the bottleneck and determines to address the problem. First, he empties Herbie’s pack and divides the contents up among the other boys. He then places Herbie in the front of the line to set the pace. Because Herbie’s pack is lighter, he is able to move faster, and the “throughput” of the team is increased, as they all end up in camp together.
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Consider this concept in your own business. What bottlenecks are holding up the entire process? Where can you apply more resources to remove the bottleneck and increase throughput? Some of the concepts in the book are revolutionary. And yet once you read them you will want to slap yourself in the forehead and say, “This is so obvious, how can I not have seen it before.” Don’t beat yourself up. Every person to whom I have recommended the book has had the exact same experience.
In the end you will be left with three questions: What to change, what to change to, and how to cause the change. Again, this is one of those books that can have an incredible effect on your business and your life. The precepts here can be applied to any process large or small. The only thing left to do is go forth and conquer!
Dave Donald is worldwide ambassador for Origin Acoustics.