I had intended to spend the last entry our re-read of the The Goal waxing poetic about the afterward in the book titled “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”. Suffice it to say that the afterward does an excellent job describing the practical and theoretical basis for Goldratt and Cox’s ideas that ultimately shaped the both lean and process improvement movements since 1984.

Previous Installments:

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3      Part 4      Part 5 
Part 6       Part 7      Part 8     Part 9      Part 10
Part 11     Part 12      Part 13    Part 14    Part 15
Part 16    Part 17

The Goal is important because it introduced and explained the theory of constraints (TOC), which has proven over and over again to be critical to anyone managing a system. The TOC says that the output of any manageable system is limited by a small number of constraints and that all typical systems have at least one constraint. I recently had a discussion with a colleague that posited that not all systems have constraints. He laid out a scenario in which if you had unlimited resources and capability it would be possible to create a system without constraints. While theoretically true, it would be safe to embrace the operational hypothesis that any realistic process has at least one constraint. Understanding the constraints that affect a process or system provides anyone with an interest in process improvement with a powerful tool to deliver effective change. I do mean anyone! While the novel is set in a manufacturing environment, it is easy to identify how the ideas can apply to any setting where work follows a systematic process. For example, software development and maintenance is a process that takes business needs and transforms those needs into functionality. The readers of the Software Process and Measurement Blog should recognize that ideas in The Goal are germane to the realm of information technology.

As we have explored the book, I have shared how I have been able to apply the concepts explored to illustrate that what Goldratt and Cox wrote was applicable in the 21st century workplace. I also shared how others reacted to the book when I read it in public or talked about to people trapped next to me on numerous flights. Their reaction reminded me that my reaction was not out of the ordinary. The Goal continues to affect people years after it was first published. For example, the concept of the TOC and the Five Focusing Steps proved useful again this week. I was asked to discuss process improvement with a team comprised of tax analysts, developers and testers. Each role is highly specialized and there is little cross-specialty work-sharing. With a bit of coaching the team was able to identify their process flow and to develop a mechanism to identify their bottleneck(s) to improve their through put. Even though the Five Focusing Steps were never mentioned directly, we were able agree on an improvement approach that would find the constraint, help them exploit the constraint, subordinate the other steps in the process to the constraint, support improving the capacity of the constraint, then reiterate the analysis if the step was no longer a constraint. Had I never read The Goal, we might not have found a way to improve the process.

Perhaps re-reading the book or just carrying it around has made me overly sensitive to the application of the TOC and the other concepts in the book. However, I don’t think that was the real reason the material is useful. Others have been equally impacted, for example, Steve Tendon, author of Tame The Flow, and currently a columnist on the Software Process and Measurement Cast suggests that The Goal and the TOC has had a significant influence on his groundbreaking process improvement ideas. Bottom line, if you have not read or re-read The Goal I strongly suggest that you make the time to read the book. The Goal is an important book if you manage processes or are interested in improving how work is done in the 21st century.

I would like to hear from you! Can you tell me:

  1. How has The Goal impacted how you work?
  2. Have you been able to put the ideas in the book into practice?
  3. What are the successes and difficulties you faced when leveraging the Theory of Constraints?
  4. Do you use the Socratic method to identity and fix problems?

Re-Read Saturday Housekeeping Notes:

  • Next week we begin the re-read of The Mythical Man-Month (I am buying a new copy today, so if you do not have a copy, get a copy today.  I will be reading this version of Man-Month.
  • Remember that the summary of previous entries in the re-read of The Goal have been shifted to a new page.
  • Also, if you don’t have a copy of The Goal, buy one and read it! If you use the link below it will support the Software Process and Measurement blog and podcast. Dead Tree Version or Kindle Version.