Epiphanies, the profound and sudden flash of understanding, in any field are rare; however, when they do happen they generally transform the person that has the revelation but don’t always have an impact on those around them. Sitting on a plane from Los Angles this week as I prepared to write this entry of Re-read Saturday, the person next to me pointed at my copy of The Goal and stated “I read that book, it changed my life.” As I have re-read The Goal I have been amazed at the number people that have stopped me to make sure I knew that they had read the book, also.  In today’s entry, the penultimate entry, Alex has an epiphany and discovers the answer to Johan’s final question to Alex.

Previous Installments:

Chapter 39.  Bill Peach asks Alex to visit him and explain why his ideas are working.  Meanwhile, back at the plant all heck breaks loose.  The new orders have stressed the system.  Random problems in front of the bottleneck used up all of the buffer in front of the bottleneck steps.  The buffer had been used to keep he throughput through the bottleneck smooth and at maximum utilization. Once the buffer had been used up, the random problems caused work to get to the bottleneck in waves, causing the bottlenecks to be alternately starved and swamped.  This problem caused the plant to fall back to overtime and expediting work.

Alex leads a session with his team (soon to be Bob’s team) to find the root cause of the problem.  In the end the problem turned out to be that the new order had reduced the excess capacity in the plant.  Without changing the buffer in front of the bottleneck, the reduction in excess capacity meant that any shock to the system would quickly impact the bottlenecks which in turn would negatively impact the plants ability to deliver.  The team decides they need to rebuild the buffers to anticipate some level of shocks, using overtime and for the time being increase the delivery lead time.  Once a course was decided upon, Bob and “his” team put it into action.  Chapter 39 marks the transition of Alex to being division manager and Bob to plant manager.

Chapter 40.  Alex, now division manager, and Lou, now Alex’s division comptroller, discuss the problems they have in front of them as they make the commute home from division headquarters. The problems at the division level are seemingly insurmountable. Examples they discuss include a delay introducing new product models (even though there is demand) so that organization does not have to mark down old product currently in inventory.  Lou and Alex decide to apply the five step process to the problem: however, both agree, that while the problem is important it not urgent enough to need to break family commitments that evening both men had.  This is unlike earlier in the book when Alex and his team would practically live in the plant.  In the vernacular of Agile, Alex has discovered a sustainable pace.

The five step process is:

1. Find the constraint
1. Exploit the constraint
2. Subordinate every other step to the constraint
3. Elevate the constraint, then
4. Repeat if the constraint has been broken

When they reconvene in the morning they struggle with how to apply the five step process to the division.  They determine the constraints at the division level are the policies that drive the wrong behavior.  Both Alex and Lou struggle with how to apply the process when faced with concepts like policies rather than something tangible like a production process when the epiphany strikes.

Johan had left Alex with the task of answering, “What are the techniques needed for management?” The struggle to apply the five step process lead Alex to the conclusion that, to manage, a leader must have the techniques to answer these questions:

1. What to change?
2. What to change to?
3. How to cause the change?

Alex realizes he has learned to think for himself which was the outcome Johan had hoped for when he stopped providing advice.