Book Cover

 

The Goal: A Business Graphic Novel
Eliyahu M. Goldratt
As adapted by Dwight Jon Zimmerman and Dean Motter

 

The Goal, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, is one of those books that have changed the world. I personally keep it next to my copy of Deming’s, Out of the Crisis. When one picks up a graphic adaptation of a book that you recently have re-read and you have to answer three questions:

  1. Is the material true to the original author’s ideas?
  2. Are the critical concepts easier to consume?
  3. Do the characters translate from text to pictures well?

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This is a re-play of our 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 

I am running the poll for the next book in our Re-read Saturday feature.  We are nearly done with  The Science of Successful Organizational Change!  As in past polls please vote twice or suggest a write-in candidate in the comments.  We will run the poll for two weeks.  Let the voting begin!

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I am traveling this week in India for the 13th CSI/IFPUG International Software Measurement & Analysis Conference: “Creating Value from Measurement”. Read more about it here. In the meantime, enjoy some classic content, and I’ll be back with new blog entries next week. (more…)

XP Explained

This week we tackle teams in XP and why XP works based on the Theory of Constraints in Extreme Programing Explained, Second Edition (2005). The two chapters are linked by the idea that work is delivered most effectively when  teams or organizations achieve a consistent flow. (more…)

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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.

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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:

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

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.

Re-Read Saturday Notes:

  1. I anticipate that the re-read of The Goal will conclude next week with part 18. Our next book will be The Mythical Man-Month (I am buying a new copy today so if you do not have a copy . . . get a copy today and please use this version of Man-Month).
  2. Remember that the summary of previous entries in the re-read of The Goal have been shifted to a new page (here).
  3. 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.

 

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As part of my day job I am often asked to help a team, project or department find a way to improve the value they deliver.  When dealing with knowledge work having a single, prescriptive path is rarely effective because even the most mundane product support work includes discovery and innovation. Once we have discovered a path it is important to step back and generalize the approach so that teams can use the process in a variety of scenarios.  I have found that developing a generalized approach is rarely as straight forward as changing the personal pronouns in the process to refer to another group. Regardless of this hard won realization, I still read posts and hear about people that are considering adopting best practices or procedures from other groups without tailoring.  Adopting a process, procedure or even a tool using an untailored, out of the box approach is rarely a good idea in knowledge work.  Alex and his team continue to search for a generalized approach that can be used to transform the entire division

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

 

Chapter 37. Alex and his team continue their daily meetings do discover the answer to the question “What are the techniques needed for management?” In Chapter 36 the team had settled on a generalized five step process which was:

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

 

Ralph (computer guy) voices a concern that they really had not done step three.  After some discussion the team finds that the by constraining how work and material enter the process they really had subordinated all of the steps in the process to the bottlenecks.  Remember that the work and material entering the process had been constrained so the bottlenecks were 100% utilized (no more, no less).  During the discussion, Stacey (materials) recognized that the earlier red/yellow card approach the team had used to control the flow of work into the bottlenecks was still in place and was the cause of the problems she had been observing (Chapter 36). In order to deal with the problems caused by earlier red/yellow card approach and to keep everyone busy, Stacey admitted to have been releasing extra work into the process therefore building excess inventory of finished goods.  The back of the envelope calculations showed that the plant now had 20% extra capacity therefore they needed more orders to keep the plant at maximum capacity.  Alex decides go see Johnny Jons (sales manager) to see if they can prime the sales pump.

These observations led the team to the understanding that every time they recycled through the process they should have re-questioned and revalidated EVERY change they had previously made. The inertia of thinking something will work because it has in the past or because it has for someone else is often not your friend in process improvement!

Chapter 38. Jons, Alex, Lou (plant controller), Ralph and one of Jons more innovative salesmen meet at headquarters to discuss where they can come up with 10 million dollars of additional orders.  During the discussion it comes to light that Jons has a potential deal that he about to reject because the prices are well below standard margins. Alex points out that since the plant has excess capacity the real cost to produce the product is far lower than Jons is assuming (labor and overhead are already sunk costs). The plant could take the order and make a huge profit.  Alex and his team convince Jons to take the order if the potential client will commit to a one year deal.  They further sweeten the deal by committing to a quick deliveries (something other companies can’t emulate) in order to avoid starting a price war.  Jons agrees to accept the order as the potential client is well outside of the company’s standard area of distribution therefore will not impact the margins they getting on other orders.  On the way back to the plant Alex, Lout and Ralph reflect that they had just seen the same type of inertia that the team discovered the previous day in their process improvement approach and that Alex’s new role in changing the whole division will need to address even more organizational inertia.

Later Alex and Julie (wife) reflect that the key to the management practices Alex is searching for lie in the application of the scientific method.  Instead of collecting a lot of data and making inferences, the approach Johan had taken begins with a single observation, develops a hypothesis, leverages if-then relationships and then tests those relationships.  Alex searches popular scientific books for inspiration to his management questions.  When they discuss the topic again, Julie, who has continued to read the Socratic Dialogs, points out that they follow the same if-then pattern that Alex has described as Johan’s approach.

Re-Read Saturday Notes:

  1. I anticipate that the re-read of The Goal will conclude in two weeks with part 18. Our next book will be The Mythical Man-Month (I am buying a new copy today so if you do not have a copy . . . get a copy today and please use this Man-Month).
  2. Remember that the summary of previous entries in the re-read of The Goal have been shifted to a new page (here).
  3. Also, 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