I just finished reading The Goal by Eli Goldratt — I don’t usually review books here at epm.com because I figure you can get decent reviews on Amazon.com. I usually will embed a book recommendation in a post about a particular topic instead of actually posting specifically about a book. The Goal is one of my favorite business books on the market and should be on everyone’s reading list regardless of their position within a company. First published in 1984, it is one of those underground books that have gained traction and momentum and continue to be relevant 30 years later.
I was first introduced to this book in 2000 by the owner of a company I worked for. At the time I was the Director of Marketing and PR and I think he was trying to get me to look at the process I had in place to serve the local and regional sales managers. He also wanted me to start taking a look at the larger picture and think about how the company could eliminate many of the bottlenecks that existed on the production side of our company. The book itself is about process improvement. It is not what I would call a traditional text on the subject — it is disguised as a story about a manufacturing facility trying to streamline operations. It is a horrible story in and of itself, but the rewards for staying engaged with the plot and the lessons embedded in the narrative should be enough to keep you engaged. It may sound a little funny, but I think the strength of this book is in its weakness — the way the story is told makes the concepts easier to understand and apply.
While most texts on process improvement are extremely dry and boring, Mr. Goldratt keeps the text easy to understand. No matter what level you have risen to in your company, the way the author tells the story will help you understand the Theory of Constraints and how it impacts your business. It will also help you understand what metrics are important to help you determine organizational performance. If you are just starting your career or you are a seasoned executive, this book deserves your attention.
I think it is a great precursor to any education related to the Scrum methodology. I am not going to ruin the ending and tell you what “The Goal” is, but Agile project management and specifically the Scrum methodology can help you achieve the same goal because of the focus on value and quality over the traditional project management constraints. While to the lay person, focusing on value and quality over budget and time/schedules may seem like a pipe dream and possibly very expensive, assuring you provide a product that will provide exceptional value to your customers/clients will guarantee that the people who write you checks will continue to do business with you.
One concept that Mr. Goldratt focuses on extensively throughout the book is “bottlenecks“, or where in your process there are inefficiencies and everything gets held up. I think the Scrum methodology effectively helps a company overcome bottlenecks by focusing on idle work and not on idle workers. Idle work is of course tasks we want to do but can’t because there is something that is standing in the way because of dependencies or other constraints. Using Scrum strategies, we focus on eliminating bottlenecks by simply encouraging team members with excess capacity to focus on what is blocking the flow of work instead of the next item on their To-Do list. The term cross-functional teams takes on a whole new meaning when you allow team members to apply their skills in this way.
I have lost count of the number of times I have recommended this book to friends and coworkers. As you start reading this book you will notice it is very simplistic. But as you read and study it, you will notice that the lessons it teachers are very profound. It can change the framework you use to measure the effectiveness of your department and ultimately company. Ultimately, it could help improve your upward mobility as you apply the concepts it presents.