Book review: The Goal

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu Goldratt, was first published in 1984 and has become one of the most popular business books ever published.

Written in novel form, The Goal traces the story of a struggling factory and how its employees turned it into a profitable operation. By identifying “bottlenecks” managers were better able to manage resources and improve overall production.

The Theory of Constraints introduced in the novel states that the maximum output is limited to the maximum output of the “bottleneck”. Put into other terms, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

As the story unfolds we learn that managers often focus on the wrong things. While statistics and measurements can be useful tools, they are valuable only to the extent they help us achieve our primary goal. And in the context of business, all companies share the same primary goal– to make a profit.

Measurements of efficiency, for example, can be misleading. If we focus on maximizing the efficiency of each step of a process, we might actually decrease the efficiency of the overall process. That is, we must look at the big picture before we look at the details. And when we examine the details, we must always remain focused on the big picture.

In the context of a factory (the setting for the novel), this might mean keeping a particular machine idle at times. If the machine produces more than the next step of the process can handle, the excess accumulates as inventory. Both the inventory and the manpower used to produce and move increase expenses. In this situation management should focus on increasing “throughput”, that is, the amount of product available for sale.

The significant message in The Goal is the process of discovering and correcting “bottlenecks”. But this process is not a one-time event. It is a continuous process, or as the subtitle states: “a process of ongoing improvement.”

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