The Goal: A Hike Through Operations Management

The story detailed in "The Goal" is a fantastic introduction to industrial engineering basic theories.

Although I am passionate about business strategy and business marketing, I’m actually an Industrial Engineering student. Therefore, I also love to read and write about manufacturing and production theories. You may have noted this if you read my article, Supply Chain Management

In this article, I would like to talk about the best book that I have read in my entire education, “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox. The main theory introduced in this book is the: Theory of Constraints. I believe this book to be the best method of introducing, “Industrial Engineering basic theories”.

Yes, you read that correctly, it is a management-oriented novel.  

The plot is simple: It presents the story of Alex Rogo, a regular manufacturing plant manager facing the imminent closure of his factory. Within the background of the plot, the reader learns the valuable production theories, using Alex’s learning journey so that the reader and the main character have the same knowledge regarding operation management. 

I could write at least ten blog posts using the book’s content. However, I am going to focus on chapter 13. In this chapter, the author uses a boy scout hike in the forest to introduce the Theory of Constraints. Two essential elements are behind this theory: Dependent Events and Statistical Functions.  According to the author, these two phenomena occurring together are the cause of unsuccessful and unbalanced productions.

Alex’s goal presented in chapter 13 is to lead a group of children on a hike through the woods to get the finish line as soon it was possible. When all the kids cross the finish line, the task is completed.

The author uses the children walking in a line as an analogy for a production line. Each kid represents a machine and “walking” represents the job to be done on each machine. 

The hike – as well as a manufacturing system – is a set of dependent events with statistical fluctuations. For example, each kid in the line may fluctuate in speed, faster or slower. However, the ability to go faster than average is restricted.  On another hand, there is no limit on the kids’ ability to slow down. The walking capacity is directly related to all the kids ahead of the previous ones in the line. Thus the speed of the last child is a dependent event directly associated with all the other kids walking. 

The result dependent events and statistical functions during the hike creates huge gaps between faster and slower kids. In a factory situation, the distance between two kids is a “work-in-process inventory”. It is not a productive situation if the last kid arrives at the finish line two hours after the first kid. In this situation, the first kid will have to wait two hours to achieve the goal regardless.  

The solution? Alex asked for the slowest kid lead the hike to solve the gap challenge. He also carries that kid’s bag which allowed him to walk faster. All the other kids behind the first one could walk faster than the leader, so all the kids were able to maintain the same pace. The “slowest kid” is called a “bottleneck”. 

The lesson: Faster machines (or faster kids) alone won’t increase productivity. The pace of the hike will be the same as the slowest kid’s (machine) rate. This is the “Theory of Constraints”. Your bottlenecks are your constraints, so, you must relieve your bottleneck in order to move your hike faster. 

If you would like to discuss these theories further and learn how your business may benefit from their understanding and application, please feel free to reach out:


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