I have heard about The Goal sometime ago. But as it is with so many books, it went into my to-read list, where it stayed for a few years. I knew a bit what it was about, and I had read the alternatives below, so wasn’t specifically on a rush to read it. But then I started preparing a presentation where I thought it would be good to mention the book on it. So, to the top of my list it went.
It is setup as a novel on which we follow the main character (Alex Rogo) in his process of discovery and learning of the Theory of Constraints(ToC).
We are drop into the part of his life where he has a job (and marriage) on fire (not literally). And, with the occasional help of Jonah (a stand-in for Goldratt) he manages to turn the factory around (and his marriage).
As he turns the factory (and his marriage) around he “discovers” what the ToC is about.
The book it is very easy to read. The novel format leads to it. The vocabulary is easy to follow
The character of Jonah uses a lot the Socratic Method to get Alex to find the solutions. I personally like the Socratic method (though I am not that good at it), so the whole approach is nice for me.
The discovery of the solution as you go along, bit by bit, makes it very easy to understand the underpinnings, the reasoning behind the ToC.
As it happens, I have worked in company that had a factory floor as they were going through a Lean change, spearheaded by a manager called Dar Swonsen (who came from the US parent company just for that). I saw some of this transformation happening, which was very interesting (not sure how much the board of the UK company was … on board).
In terms of the Theory of Constraints, the point of the book, is a great approach to improve work. On factory work they end having the same issues as in any other type of company: At some point someone in a company did an experiment using a metric, and they found some benefit; other companies started to apply the metric without understanding the reasoning behind, or if it was appropriate, and never bothered to learn if it was giving them any kind of benefit. The metric became the goal. Efficiency is used for the factory in the book, and I can think of multiple metrics that have been used or are used in software development (lines of code, velocity, …) that have the same issue.
The breaking of traditional concepts of cost was important, as looking at things from a different perspective changes how you consider them and, therefore, how you deal with them. I can only think about IT departments everywhere, which were considered and are considered mostly as cost centres when, in fact, can facilitate massively the purpose of the organization. In fact, nowadays, is difficult to operate at any scale without IT systems, and good usage of your IT systems can provide a massive advantage over competitors.
The Goal is about Lean Management. There are certain similarities to what we do in Software Development (interesting that Goldratt did develop the ToC while working in a software company), though the basis of our work is different.
But there are two alternatives that you can read, more directly related to the the software field.
One is the short and lovely The Bottleneck Rules by Clarke Ching. A very quick introduction to ToC. No novelization. Straight to the point.
The other is The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, George Spafford and Kevin Behr. The approach is exactly the same as The Goal, but with an IT project, rather than looking at a production floor.
Another alternative, far more difficult because is all based on Queue Theory (yet, a great book), is The Principles of Product Development Flow by Reinertsen.