Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Book Review: The Goal: A Business Graphic Novel by D. Zimmerman et al.

Eliyahu M. Goldratt's The Goal: A Business Graphic Novel script by Dwight Jon Zimmerman and interior art and design by Dean Motter

Based on the business novel of the same name, The Goal tells the story of a manufacturing plant that is behind on its deliveries and under threat from upper management. The bosses will close the plant if things don't improve in three months. Al Rogo, the plant manager, was brought in six months ago to solve the problems and now is under the gun. A chance run-in with a former mathematics teacher opens Rogo's eyes to new ways of thinking about business and organizing work flow at the factory to make the needed improvements. Rogo analyzes the plant's processes, identifies bottlenecks in the production line, and develops systems to maximize productivity. Since this is a "business novel," clearly the plans will work out with a happy ending for everyone.

The point of the story is to introduce the Theory of Constraints. The original novel was published in 1984 and started a revolution in the manufacturing industry. According to the theory, the purpose of a system needs to be properly identified. For example, the factory's purpose is not to build things but to deliver goods to customers, i.e. make money. Anything in the system process that is a constraint (an area with a set level of production or capacity) is identified. Then, the rest of the system is modified to use the constraint to its maximum level. In the novel, one constraint is a robotic machine that process 25 parts in an hour. The production point directly before it averaged 25 parts an hour but fluctuates from 19 to 32 parts. If the previous production point only delivers 19 parts for processing, then the robot that could process 25 an hour only processes 19 for that specific hour. The workers reorganized their work flow to guarantee the maximum flow to the robot, thus generating maximum output. Once the system's flow is improved, workers can look for ways to elevate the constraint. In the novel, the old machinery used before the robot is put back in service in order to supplement the robot. The final step is to identify any new constraints and refine the system.

The story part of this book is interesting. Plant manager Rogo has a home life that is effected by his work but also helps him to solve problems. He takes his son's scouts on a hike but has a hard time keeping the group together on the long trek because of one slow kid. After dividing up the slow kid's overloaded pack among other boys and putting the slow kid in the lead, the hike makes it to its destination on time and in good spirits. So the theory applies not just to manufacturing plants but also in many other areas. The story, while it is used as a framework within which to explain the Theory of Constraints, is interesting enough to make good reading while learning.

Highly recommended.

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