I finished reading The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt back at the end of July, but only now (at 30,000 feet on my way back to LAX) have I finally found a free moment to sit down and write about it.
Although the book was originally written almost 20 years ago, it does a great job at making the subject of process improvement engaging. Goldratt very cleverly disguises a “business book” in the form of a fiction novel.
It seems that I always enjoy books more if I can relate to one of the characters. Although I don’t run a factory like Alex Rogo does, I am a pretty busy person who struggles to balance personal and professional demands.
Perhaps the most compelling theme in the book is the concept that the journey is more important than the destination. Every time Alex Rogo thinks he has improved how his factory operates, a whole new crop of issues arises, and Alex needs to re-investigate what’s really going on the factory floor so he can find and eliminate the new bottleneck. Goldratt summarizes Alex’s task as a process of ongoing improvement. Bottlenecks can appear anywhere, even where you least expect them. The real challenge in being a manager, Alex discovers, is being able to work through the improvement process no matter what form it may take.
If you’ll allow me to drash it a little bit (perhaps I’m in the mood because we’re right in the middle of the Yamim Noraim), what Goldratt is really getting at is that the process is more important than the outcome. In other words, the journey is its own reward. The struggle is what makes us stronger. That’s not to say that the end isn’t important; Goldratt entitled the book The Goal for a reason. Businesspeople (Goldratt’s audience) know that they need to be profitable or they’ll go out of business (or get replaced by someone who can make a profit).
The truly rewarding part of work (and by extension life in general) isn’t at the moment that you reach the goal. In fact, once I’ve finished a project and declared success there is often a little hint of disappointment that it’s over. Instead, it’s the process itself that is rewarding. It’s through the process that we grow into better people.