Imagine that a hypothetical, MBA-holding friend starts complaining to you about his well-paid job. “It seems that we’re not making any money,” he says. “Our customer product deliveries are seriously delayed, I get angry calls from the corporate executives all the time. Yesterday, our division manager came by to give direct orders to my employees. To make matters worse, my wife left me and I have no idea why.” I’d probably respond with some sympathetic cliché about work-life balance, simultaneously resisting the urge to punch him in the face and tell him that the person who paid for his MBA program should get their money back. Fortunately enough, this hapless manager is not my friend but a fictional character of Eli Goldratt’s ground-breaking business novel.
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
If two months ago anyone told me that a book on project management can be a real page turner, I probably wouldn’t believe them. Especially, if they told me that the majority of the plot takes place in a provincial factory in the 1980s and the characters look at spreadsheets and diagrams most of the time. I remember my university lecturer mentioning the title and saying “It’s a novel about project management… Oh, and there’s a sequel!”. Back then, I was pretty convinced that there’s no chance this book would be up my alley. Boy, was I wrong!
First of all, factories are pretty fascinating:
Secondly, when I finally got around to reading The Goal, I became more invested than a teenage Twilight fangirl. Seriously, I even saved a page in my journal to fill it with a long list of my favourite quotes.
The book has definitely aged a bit: every now and then the characters discuss the possible advantages of this new thingy called “computer”, while the unassuming “data guy”, who kind of knows how to operate this mysterious machine, is trying to figure out how to be useful. The characters aren’t too relatable either. For the first half of the novel Alex Rogo, the desperate manager, is an angry man-baby, who not only didn’t see things coming, but refused to see them once they slapped him in the face. I’d usually summarise his problems to my boyfriend, rolling my eyes so hard it hurt.
But I kept on going.
It’s probably because, as odd as it may sound, the satisfaction from reading this novel does not necessarily come from following the plot. There’s this one character, you see – Jonah, a physics professor, turned corporate consultant (author’s badly disguised alter ego, in fact), who agrees to help Rogo save the business. Interestingly enough, Jonah refuses to solve Alex’s problems for him but rather, adopting the Socratic method, allows him to figure everything out for himself, teaching him critical thinking, problem solving and basic common sense. Throughout the book Goldratt addresses a number of issues that are surprisingly relevant today: the difference between productivity and efficiency, the importance of work-life balance, critical approach to authority, defining appropriate metrics, and the purpose of relationships. His comments on those matters are to the point and the advice he gives should be just as applicable in a modern corporate setting as it is in this made up factory.
No, The Goal is neither your typical rainy-day read, nor a standard business handbook, but I think it’s still worth your time – especially, if you’ve just started figuring out how management works. If you’d like to learn more about Eli Goldratt and his “theory of constraints”, you should visit the official website of the Theory of Constraints Institute. You could also start with this exhaustive review by Seth Stevenson or buckle down and just read the novel!