The Goal
July 4, 2018

The Goal, a story of constraints and balance, for today’s leaders

By Hanne Sorteberg

This book review, of “The Goal“, by Eliyahu Goldratt, demonstrates the role of fiction in business.

As we continue to focus on books, that will aid your personal development, you might have assumed we would stay on the “Non-Fiction” shelves. However, in this fascinating book review, guest blogger Hanne Sorteberg, introduces us to a novel.

It’s good to welcome Hanne back. You may recall her previous posts, on Data Science, and Role Definition Workshops.

In this one, she walks us through why “The Goal” has charmed and inspired her. I had not considered including fiction before, but I can see the value of the lessons from this book.  So, I’m going to start reflecting on what I have learnt, from my fiction collection.

For now, over to Hanne, to explain how a fictional novel can help business leaders with today’s challenges.

Introducing The Goal

The Goal” was originally published in 1984, but still inspires me to this day.

It has the form of a fictional novel. In it, we follow the successes and failures, of a production plant manager. He encounters challenges making his production line efficient, and getting his personal life back on track. The solution, to both work and life problems, lies in sorting out and minimizing bottlenecks. In that way, this is also an introduction to ‘the theory of constraints‘.

Characters “think logically about their problems“. Thus, they gradually uncover, the “cause and effect relationships“, between actions and results.

Along the way they discover the importance of constraints, and learn how to manage them to achieve growth and profitability.

Here are some of the important take-aways, that I learned from this book…

Define your processes

If something is not working, it is important to understand the context of the problem. Plus, the impact, and the consequences of change. If you try to fix a problem in isolation, you may improve something. But, there may be areas that have a much larger potential of improvement. Worst case, you may introduce negative consequences, and a set of new problems.

Before you hunt problems down, define the entire production, or working process. Which parts are the most critical? Which are the bottlenecks? What dependencies are there?

Process definition can reveal, that different parts of the business may have different views, on what the process is. It is an important tool, to align the business, as well as being a foundation for improvement.

Build the right KPIs and put them to work

When are you performing badly and when are you doing well? Defining and measuring KPIs (Key Performance Indices), will drive behavior. In this story, they are referred to as ‘operational measures’.

The right KPIs will shift the organization in the right direction. The wrong KPIs may introduce behaviour you do not want. “The Goal” explores resource efficiency vs. flow/process efficiency. If you only measure resource efficiency, it may reduce flow and process efficiency.

KPIs are also a way to align the business, and get all levels of employees to engage, in the businesses strategy and goals.

Don’t just keep busy (avoid being a ‘busy fool’)

Leave enough slack, in your work and life, to be able to identify and focus on the important things.

The most compelling example, in this story, is when the new production manager gets ‘heated up‘, about workers sitting around reading newspapers. They were way behind schedule. How could they not be working hard all day, sweating over machinery, and building up overtime?

What the manager learned, throughout the book, is that certain resources (in this case machinery), are bottlenecks. Time spent hanging around these machines, to fix and maintain them when needed, actually minimizes downtime. It is better, than all workers keeping busy doing “something”, until they breakdown.

This also applies to my own professional life. When I am bogged down with work, that is urgent. I ask myself, if what I am doing, are the most important things. I try to free up time, to keep an overview, and not lose sight of long-term goals. If there is no slack in your work schedule, there is a danger that new opportunities or threats, are overlooked.

As a manager, it is important to have the time to be available for your team. For instance, when someone is stuck. That can be hard, with a calendar that has no spare time. What constraints, or bottlenecks, need to be handled, in order to move your team forward?

Work life balance is important (and possible)

This novel advocates the need for a balance, between work and life. I am certain, today’s professionals, need as many reminders as they can get, that life is not (only) work. Our protagonist is in danger of losing his wife, because he works too long hours. His way, to win her back, is a charming story. It has inspired me, to invite my husband on “dates”, and give him more of my attention.

Enjoy this fun and easy to read book. By just reading a story, you get introduced to a number, of basic LEAN/Continuous Improvement principles.

How can principles from The Goal help you?

Many thanks to Hanne, for sharing that endearing review. I found myself nodding along with many of her points.

‘Theory of Constraints’ concepts, are also very relevant to Customer Insight Leaders. How often have you got too close to a piece of analysis and failed to see ‘the wood for the trees‘? Insight leaders also have a key role to play, in helping businesses avoid unintended consequences, from the wrong KPIs.

At this time of year, when others are taking their summer holidays, I also echo her call for work-life balance. How could you carve out more time, this week, for people & causes that matter to you?

Enjoy your summer reading, and do share any fiction that has given you insights, into your working life. I’ve shared before, that one poetry collection, has consistently inspired me.