So this story starts while on my way to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car in the Downtown are of Salt Lake City. Quite normally I would simply walk from my place to the lot, as it turned out I was very early for pick up. Instead of showing up early and creating a huge hassle for the staff that works there (all very nice people), I walked into a very old bookstore on Main St.
You know these kinds of bookstores, disorganized junk stacked on top of outdated crap all the way to the ceiling. I walked in to kill some time and started looking around at the place. Quite normally I would have no interest in walking in here because of how disorganized it all is, but seeing as I wasn’t looking for anything in particular I didn’t mind.
There were shelves of nearly every kind of novel that you could think of that was made in the last hundred years. Truly, it was incredible to see so much paper gathering dust and with nearly no one to show any actual interest in the inventory that they had. Well, I sure didn’t. But I kept on exploring the store, finding myself interested in potentially seeing what kinds of books they had on business.
Now the store didn’t really have anything like a business section, but it did have a self-help section in the very back of the store in a tiny hallway. I was flabbergasted by what I found, the newest books of the entire collection seemed to reside in this one area. And when I say new, I mean in the last fifty or so years. Books about the CDs and the Internet and eMail. It was truly a time capsule to enjoy, that’s when I found the following book: The Goal by Eliyahu M goldratt.
Now, I never imagined that I would be interested in this book. We all know about goals, we all get the idea of goals, and we all know how to achieve our goals. In the years that I have seen this book on shelves, I haven’ had a bit of interest in it. But here I was, stuck in the world of rotting books from dead authors and to see this one text, I felt a strange sense of hope for the future of what I understand about goals.
From the moment that I walked out the door, I began reading the book. While it was nothing I had anticipated, I finished it 48 hours. I honestly thought it was a detailed analysis of the applications of goals in the business space. Kind of like the book I reviewed regarding OKRs (What Matters is that you Measure What Matters). But that wasn’t the case at all. what I had in my hands was the work of genius.
I would assume that people aren’t naturally aware of the bottlenecks that are in their lives, and we don’t want to be when ever possible. At this present moment, I am obsessed with the idea.
The structure of the book is that of a novel. Yes, a business book written in the form of a palatable novel. Yes, there are characters, plot, and even intrigue. Essentially that’s what compelled me to read it so quickly, there really was a story and there really was a lot of useful information in it. I am not going to lie, I am not sure that I will ever be able to recover from reading something like The Goal. It bears so much weight, the theory of constraints, on nearly everything that we do now that it would be hard to imagine why humans didn’t figure this stuff out sooner.
The big problem for me, however, is how to apply the theory of constraints into my own life. See, all the information that resides in the book has been impacting the industry for the last 50+ years. I have only known, consciously, for the last 24 hours. So what I want to change, what I want to change it to, and how to change are completely new to me in respects of constraint theory. I would assume that people aren’t naturally aware of the bottlenecks that are in their lives, and we don’t want to be when ever possible. At this present moment, I am obsessed with the idea.
Just check out this video of me right after I have read the book, it is almost like I have had a fire lit right under me as I begin to decompress the tremendous volume of information that I have powered through.
I was truly intrigued by what the goal truly is: make money. That’s the goal, and like any self propagating system, as is outlined in Dr. Theodore J. Kaczynski (Eye Opening Experience Reading Anti-tech Revolution), the power principle while rise to meet the challenge of its goal or will be destroyed by the process of trying to achieve it. And as we follow the main character Alex Rogo on his journey through making his plant a profitable one, we see a microcosm for how policies themselves are self propagating systems that left unchecked for so long have nearly bankrupted the entire company at large.
That’s where the theory of constraints comes in. By focusing all attention to the slowest producing machine in the entire facility, or the slowest kid on the hike (an example provided by the book), administration can determine how to exploit the fact that the rate of which the single slowest machine is the rate that the whole factory is bound. That isn’t to say that bottlenecks are a bad thing, but when you optimize each individual machine to its fullest capacity irrespective of the factory as a whole, you essentially are running the machine into the ground.
After a series of changes in how the order of work is handled in the factory, Alex and the gang learn very quickly the power of using a process oriented approach to improvement: what to change (losing money), what to change it to (making money), and how to make the change (theory of constraints). And the gang discovers that the process for applying the theory of constraints is fairly straight forward as well:
- Find the constraint(s)
There might be multiple constraints in what ever system that you are looking into, but ideally you want to only be working with one if that’s what your system has.
- Exploit the constraint(s)
Once you have identified the constraint, particularly the bottleneck, you need to do everything to exploit its performance. Not in a glug glug action, but in a ever flowing action. As it is repeated over and over, one hour lost at the bottleneck is an hour lost across the entire organization. And if the bottleneck is going glug-glug, instead of simply and easily flowing, that means that the system is losing money.
- Subordinate everything to the previous decisions
You have made the decision to make the system run to the beat of that bottleneck, now you must make everything else in that system obey that pace. You don’t want to have tremendous amounts of inventory showing up all over the place, e.g. tying up capital as work-in-progress instead of shipping orders in an orderly rate.
- Elevate the constraint
After you have the system flowing evenly, you need to find ways to open the capacity of the bottleneck. This is the equivalent of taking the mouth of the bottle and stretching it wider or even making another mouth altogether, just so long as that point in the machine remains as the bottleneck.
- Start over if the bottleneck breaks, but be cognizant of momentum as it has a stacking effect.
The last thought here is that this is a process of on-going improvement, you need not be concerned when problems arise. You have probably made the whole system start to run at a break neck speed compared to anything you’ve ever done before. Adjust the system to meet with this newly formed momentum.
Anyway, this book was incredibly enlightening and I am taking what I have learned and seeking out the potential bottlenecks in my personal life, and in my business life. I hope to be able to find some neat resources out there that will help me identify and exploit these bottlenecks so that I can subordinate everything else in my life to them. Afterward, I hope to elevate the capacity of these bottlenecks. Who knows what will happen, I might have to reconsider the entirety of my life from this new perspective.
Where have you seen or used the theory of constraints, where would you expect to see bottlenecks in your personal or business life?