Today we begin the re-read of The Goal. If you don’t have a copy of the book, buy one.  If you use the link below it will support the Software Process and Measurement blog and podcast. Dead Tree Version or Kindle Version 

Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox’s wrote The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement (published in 1984).  The Goal was framed as a business novel. In general, a novel presents a story through a set of actions and events to facilitate a plot. A business novel uses the plot, interactions between characters and events to develop and illustrate concepts or processes that are important to the author.  Bottom line, a business novel uses metaphors rather than drawn out scholarly exposition to make its point.  The Goal uses the story of Alex Rogo, plant manager, to illustrate the theory of constraints and how the wrong measurement focus can harm an organization.

I am using the 30th anniversary edition of The Goal for this re-read.  This version of the book includes two forewords and 40 chapters.

The two forwards to The Goal expose Goldratt’s philosophical approach.  For example, in the forwards, science is defined as a method to develop or expose a “minimum set of assumptions that can be explained through straightforward derivation, the existence of many phenomena of nature.” Science provides an approach to develop an understanding why something is occurring and then to be able to test against that understanding. We deduce based on observation and measurement to develop a hypothesis and then continue to compare what we see against the hypothesis. Good science is the foundation of effective process improvement. Good process improvement is simply a requirement for survival in today’s dynamic business environment.

The characters introduced in chapters 1 – 4:

  • Alex Rogo – the protagonist, manufacturing plant manager
  • Bill Peach – command and control division vice-president
  • Fran – Alex’s secretary
  • Bob Donovan – Production Manager
  • Julie Rogo – Alex Rogo’s wife

Chapter 1:

In the first chapter we are immediately introduced to Alex Rogo, plant manager, and his boss, Bill Peach.  Our protagonist, Alex Rogo is immediately thrown into a crisis, revolving around a late shipment that his boss has arrived, unannounced, at the plant to expedite. Bill Peach begins by interfering with plant operations, which leads to a critical mechanic quitting and to a broken and potentially sabotaged machine.  Remember back to Kotter’s eight stage model for significant change in his seminal book, Leading Change (the last book featured in out Re-Read Saturday feature).  The first step in the model was to establish a sense of urgency. Goldratt and Cox use chapter one to establish the proverbial burning platform.  The plant is losing money, orders are shipping late and Peach has delivered an ultimatum that unless the plant is turned around, it will be closed.

Chapter 2:

The immediate crisis is surmounted, the order is completed and shipped. The plant focused on getting a single order done and shipped. Bob Donavan noted that everyone pulled together, behavior that the Agile community would call “swarming.”  A thread running through the chapter is that the plant has aggressively pursued cost savings and increased efficiency. This thread foreshadows a recognition that measuring the cost savings or efficiency improvement in any individual step might not provide the results the organization expects. Rogo reflects at one point that he has the best people and the best technology, therefore he must be a poor manager.

Chapter 3:

This chapter develops on the corporate culture by exposing the fixation on efficiency and cost control as the basis for measurement and comparison.  The whole division is on the chopping block and an endemic atmosphere of fear has taken hold.  For example, Rogo’s and Peach’s relationship that had, in the past, been marked by camaraderie is a reflection of the fear and animosity that has been generated. Fear hinders the collaboration and innovation that will be needed to save both the plant and the division.  W. Edward Deming in his famous 14 principles explicitly stated “drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.” My interpretation of chapter 3 is that fear and the tools that generate fear will need to be addressed for the division to survive.

Chapters 1 through 3 actively present the reader with a burning platform.  The plant and division are failing.  Alex Rogo has actively pursued increased efficiency and automation to generate cost reductions, however performance is falling even further behind and fear has become central feature in the corporate culture.

Next week we begin the path toward redemption!

What are your thoughts on the forwards and first 3 chapters?