Tag Archives: the goal

Precisely Wrong

preciselyLast Thursday marked the fourth anniversary of the passing of someone who, while not typically credited as a “Lean” thinker, nevertheless had a profound impact on many Lean implementers. Eliyahu Goldratt, or Eli, was an Israeli physicist whose PhD thesis on queuing theory led him and many followers on an improvement odyssey based on his first book, The Goal, that paralleled and eventually supplemented the Lean revolution. I do not believe there is a definitive biography of Eli Goldratt, but there are many individual memories and stories. In 2011, I wrote one in my blog just two months before Dr. Goldratt’s death entitled: Epiphanitis. Here is another to commemorate a great thinker and influencer:

Eli Goldratt’s passionate and sometimes-brash approach to teaching was a hallmark, yet he approached his audience with the logic of a physicist. Holding a lit cigar while he challenged listeners to reject status quo thinking, he sometimes accented his points with profanity. As English was not his first language, I think he may not have been aware of which expletives were appropriate for which crowds – or maybe he was.   He was all about confrontation and doing battle with the conventional concepts that he considered to be the root cause of low productivity. I attended a seminar once where Eli’s TOC model was described by a participant as “too complex due to the myriad and flux of constraints in a typical factory.”   Dr. Goldratt shot back with visible anger, “If you think this is too difficult, then think harder.”

“Cost accounting is public enemy #1 to productivity,” he declared nearly ten years before I’d ever heard of Lean accounting. By 1986, with one year of production management under my belt, I began to understand his reasoning: On a daily basis, my factory’s direct labor was being scrutinized, while waste, which ran rampant, was a periodic footnote on a variance report. This confusion led me to attend a five-day Goldratt workshop to seek an alternative approach to production. When Eli entered the classroom as a guest speaker at the workshop, I approached him immediately with questions about standard costing and variances. He responded, “Traditional cost accounting is precisely wrong,” a comment that instantly and forever changed my thinking. We were measuring labor to four decimal places, yet ignoring all but the biggest production problems.   This particular practice unfortunately continues to this day as a major impediment to productivity improvement.

In 1985, Eli did not explicitly align himself with the Toyota Production System. His Theory of Constraints, TOC, was seen by many as competitive to TPS. But his emphasis on the defective underpinnings of traditional manufacturing were mostly in concert with TPS. He focused at a deep level on the root causes of poor performance: behavioral, logistical and managerial (policy-based) constraints. Goldratt’s TOC Effect-Cause-Effect Technique, or ECET (a topic for a later blog post) provided a powerful means for setting improvement priorities that I have used now for thirty years. In his sixty-four years, Eli Goldratt went on to publish nearly twenty insightful books, each developing his Theory of Constraints and broadening its application beyond the factory floor.

In 2007, Eli Goldratt summed up a kind of unified field theory, including TOC and TPS, as well as the Ford System. Entitled “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants,” the clip paid homage to the science of improvement, from one of its greatest if not improbable proponents: a PhD physicist who to my knowledge never worked a day in a factory. It’s seven minutes long and little hard to understand, but worth a listen.

Are you an Eli Goldratt fan? Share a personal story.


BTW: Speaking of constraints, don’t miss “Teatime with the Toast Dude,” my free monthly webinar, which this month (July 7) will discuss The Politics of Organizational Change. Sign up here.

Also, GBMP has a full schedule of summer Lean learning and benchmarking opportunities – including Plant Tours, one day workshops for manufacturing and healthcare and, as a licensed affiliate of the Shingo Institute, several Shingo Institute workshops planned for Texas, Idaho and Massachusetts. See the full line up of events on our website.

And of course you won’t want to forget about our upcoming September conference – the 11th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference. Get a sneak peek of the preliminary agenda here or visit the official conference website to read lots more and register.

Accidental Revolution

Last week I visited with JVS, a terrific Boston-area organization whose mission “is to empower individuals from diverse communities to find employment and build careers, and to partner with employers to hire, develop, and retain productive workforces.”  I was reminded of my first experience with workforce development, one that was detailed in a 1986 edition of TEI Newsletter under the heading ‘A Revolution That Began With a Book.”  As I reflect now, I think the heading should have read “A Revolution That Began by Chance,” because the book in question, The Goal, while thought provoking, was only indirectly the trigger of the revolution.  Here’s the real story:

In 1986, as I had just been promoted to vice president of manufacturing, a copy of The Goal was serendipitously dropped in my lap by a visiting consultant.  I liked the book so much that I ordered four more copies for my managers.  They liked it too, mostly because they identified with the fictional plight of the story’s protagonist, Alex Rogo, a poor slob trying unsuccessfully to please the customer.   We all felt like Alex.

The next thing I did caused a few persons to question my sanity.  I purchased several hundred more copies of The Goal to distribute to every employee in manufacturing.  I thought to myself, “Here’s a story that articulates many of the problems we have, and recommends a path out of those problems.”  I wrote a short note to employees asking them to read the book and enclosed it with the book in the weekly paychecks.  “It’s an easy read,” I thought naively “that will align everyone’s thinking around continuous improvement.”  On Thursday afternoon, books and paychecks were distributed.

As left the building on Thursday, I noticed several dozen copies of the book strewn in the parking lot.   My first emotions were anger and betrayal.  What had I done to deserve this?  Didn’t employees want to learn?  Didn’t they want to do a better job?   I scooped up copies from the parking lot as if I was erasing graffiti, and, like Alex Rogo, went home to stew about my problems.

The next morning I pulled together a quick meeting of managers and supervisors to get their reaction to the book trashing.   There were several I-told-you-so’s: “You should’ve known those folks would not read a book.”   But Evie, a production supervisor offered diplomatically, “Perhaps you insulted some employees because they can’t speak English.”   Suddenly I felt stupid.  It should have been obvious to me that communication in our plant was severely limited by lack of a common language. In fact, there were at least seven different languages spoken in our factory.  Many factory workers were bi-lingual, but their second language was French, not English.

Shortly thereafter, Evie submitted an employee suggestion that employees in her department be taught English.  Our HR manager ran with the idea, identifying an organization like JVS to provide ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) training to any interested non-English speaking employees.  He also found state funding to pay for the training.   To the surprise of many, fifty employees signed up!

More surprising still was the change in thinking within the factory.  The company had invested in people, not just machines.  And the ROI was seen in more problem solving, better teamwork and more ideas.  The final irony was that the ESOL students were learning Japanese words as well, like Kaizen and Kanban and Poka-Yoke, as part of their English curriculum, in many cases better than our native English-speaking employees.

Are you investing in your employees?   The payback is huge.  Share a story.