The Goal (and stuff along the way)
The Grasshopper was reminded the other day of a curious book called The Goal. Written by Eli Goldratt in the early 1980s, it remains a prime contender for the award for top management books that manage to be cringeworthy novels at the same time.
In The Goal, the book’s hero, Alex, manages to rescue both his new job in factory management and his marriage by learning a thing called the Theory of Constraints. More of this in a moment, but what ‘hopper always thought was a bit naïve about the story was that Alex learns all this through the time-honoured Socratic method of question-think-answer-go-round-again. His mentor in The Goal is called Jonah (of course, he couldn’t be called Eli, could he) and while Jonah does a great job of getting Alex to sort the factory out, the thought of getting the missus to play along with it always seemed to ‘hopper as being a bit crass. Lady grasshoppers are fine creatures, but they never jump in the direction that Socrates would have wanted them to. He is, after all, quoted as saying: “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you will be happy. If you get a bad one, you will be a philosopher”.
Anyway, one of the main things Alex learns about the Theory of Constraints is the Drum-Buffer-Rope method. The idea is quite simple, really: use the bottleneck as the drum that beats the time; build a buffer in front of the bottleneck so that it never gets starved and dries up the whole operation; then use the flow through the bottleneck as the rope that pulls everything else around it. Easy to conceptualise, but more difficult to make work in practice. Identifying the bottlenecks can be difficult. And even when they are, paying too much attention to them can reveal other bottlenecks in the system that lay hitherto undetected. But hey, that’s what continuous improvement is all about.
Nonetheless, ‘hopper has always considered drum-buffer-rope as being worth knowing about. It can cut down stress in life – why rush to get through passport control when the real bottleneck is the luggage carousel? Better to plug in the earphones and let the flow of humanity carry you through. And when one thinks about it, perhaps the whole of life works that way. The drums are the events that beat the pattern of the way our lives are shaped: the beginnings, the disruptions, the victories, the tragedies, the endings. The buffers are the resources we build up – or not – to deal with those events: the emotional resources, the financial resources, the energy. And everything else is attached to the rope that we pull along behind us as we pass through the bottlenecks.
That rope is simply called ‘life’.
It doesn’t always work like that, of course. Just try getting through passport control in Dallas Tx.