When a few months ago I read The Phoenix Project and The Unicorn Project, I learned that they are the modern IT-era reincarnations of The Goal. It was written in a similar style in 1984, but it was targeting the manufacturing businesses with its explanation of the theory of constraints. So it’s about the world of real factories, not about software factories.
Oh boy, I loved those books so much! Especially the The Phoenix Project! They seemed so novel, I loved the style that merged a novel with a technical book. I still love them. I just don’t consider them as novelty anymore.
As I started to read The Goal, I had a feeling that I alrady read the book. I still like The Phoenix Project, but I see a big part of it as simply a modernization of The Goal. A freshly appointed talented manager takes over something in ruins and while he is trying to fix it more than anything, he ruins his family. Of course, as it’s an American happy ending story, eventually he fixes everything. Let’s not forget about the strange outsider, Jonah who helps the protagonist to discover the guidelines to be followed in order to save his unit, his career and after all his personal life.
In that sense, The Unicorn Project is more of a novelty, but let’s stop discussing these other books.
Or maybe hold on for a second!
All that overtime finally understood
If you are like me, you might wonder why someone works his as off at a corporation. Don’t get me wrong! Working hard is important, but neglecting your life and family for someone else’s business is not my cup of tea. Putting in unpaid overtime without a clear personal goal in mind is not okay.
I never understood from the The Phoenix Project why the main character, Bill Palmer worked so hard. What were his reasons behind it? In The Goal, the protagonist, Alex Rogo explains his reasons to his wife after a long time.
His spouse, Julie, grew up in a family where the father was at home at the same time every single afternoon and they spent a lot of time with each other. He was a family man. He was not living for his career and that’s what Julie expected from his husband as well. But Alex was raised differently. His father owned a small business that fed the family. No business, no food. So the rule was simple. Business first, then family.
Both perspectives are understandable, but these perspectives must be spoken out loud.
With that background, it’s much easier to understand why Rogo was putting in endless hours.
I feel important to make a few points clear.
First, corporations are not family businesses. We barely make more by putting in more hours. As individuals, we rarely have a deep effect on the survival of a company. So we should work hard in our contracted time and we can and should be flexible in emergency situations but that’s it.
Second, if we constantly have to work our butts off just to survive, there is a problem. Either with our processes, our time management or with the expectations. We have to analyze the root cause and fix the issue.
What’s the goal after all?
There as some fundamental questions raised by the advisor Jonah and the protagonist Alex in the book.
What is the goal of a business? - asked Jonah, the physicist/advisor.
What is the goal of a marriage? - asked Alex, the plant manager and failing husband.
The first one is simpler than expected.
The goal of any business is to make money.
As simple as that.
I’ve been thinking about it. After all, The Goal is not a very new book. Is it still the goal of a company?
I think it should.
There are many out there that tries to promote social, political, whatever transformations. No matter their directions, I don’t think they should.
Still, the goal of the company is to make money so that investors get their returns and then they can promote whatever causes they want.
If making money is the ultimate goal, does it mean that companies should use unethical means to make money?
No, they should clearly not. You should not try to achieve your goal in unethical ways. But you cannot rely on human goodness, the right laws and authorities must be in place.
Making money is a high-level goal. How can it be transformed into something more concrete?
The first answer to that question in the book is still quite vague. On the other hand, it can be applied to non-manufacturing companies too.
“The goal is to increase net profit, while simultaneously increasing both ROI and cash flow”.
That’s probably good enough for us here as we deal with software and not with manufacturing. But for the sake of curiosity, let’s translate into the language of manufacture.
“The goal is to increase the throughput while you decrease the inventory and the operational expenses.”
That’s the goal of a manufacturing company.
I let you think about the goal of a marriage.
Is a promotion just winning a point in the rat race?
When Alex is promoted from a plant manager to become the leader of the whole division his wife, Julie is proposing a toast to it. But Alex refuses to drink to his promotion.
First, he says that his family paid a too big price for the promotion. In addition, he cannot be very proud of it because he doesn’t feel it is his own achievement. It’s also about all the other people and especially Jonah who helped him through as an advisor.
While his feelings are understandable, many of us reject to be proud of our performance. It’s not good. It’s not good to belittle our performance. When someone compliments us or praises us we should find excuses. We should feel good, smile and say thank you.
It’s not a boastful act, it just shows self-confidence.
But on the other hand, Alex has an interesting point when he asks “what is this promotion if not just winning a point in the rat race?”
Chasing a promotion just because of the promotion itself should not be our goal. Promotion is just an event or a status. It feels good at the moment, but that feeling will vanish sooner than you’d think. Instead, you should aim for progress. Progressing towards something that is a meaningful goal. Something that is not about instant gratification, not about something followed by emptiness.
Getting promoted couldn’t be a good goal for Alex, but making progress in the factory as a manager was a much better goal. Getting a promotion depends on many external factors. Making progress in whatever field you’re interested in is a great goal because it’s in your control and you worry less about what others do so you’re less distracted.
I discuss more on this topic in Chapter 11 of The Seniority Trap.
The Goal is a book about how to manage a business, in particular a manufacturing business. It’s almost 40 years old. Still, it’s relevant and interesting even today, even for software developers. Given that it’s a novel it’s entertaining to read and all that we can learn about resource management, accounting is interesting and with some thinking probably it can be applied to many different areas. We just have to think a bit outside of the box. Like Gene Kim did in The Unicorn Project.
I’m happy that I finally read The Goal and it also made to formalize my own goals.
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