Cleaning out the closet the other day, I came across an old favorite book of mine called The Goal (wikipedia entry). I read it a couple of years after coming out of engineering school to get a little perspective on the business side of manufacturing.

Now there’s a lot to this book, but fundamentally I remember it for something the author, Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt coined as the Theory of Constraints (wikipedia entry). Here’s an excerpt from the wikipedia definition.

Theory of Constraints (TOC) is an overall management philosophy introduced by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt in his 1984 book titled The Goal, that is geared to help organizations continually achieve their goal. The title comes from the contention that any manageable system is limited in achieving more of its goal by a very small number of constraints, and that there is always at least one constraint. The TOC process seeks to identify the constraint and restructure the rest of the organization around it, through the use of the Five Focusing Steps.

Sounds dry, I know. But the brilliant context of the book is that the protagonist, Alex Rogo, is trying to figure out how to keep the plant he runs for a fictional company UniCo Manufacturing from closing. In the case of the plant, the goal of the plant was increased profits. The constraints to that goal were bottlenecks in production as well as sales volumes. Alex ends up tweaking and twisting those bottlenecks to up production as well as bring in more sales at lower margins but huge volumes.

Besides bringing back memories of years ago, I have to admit, this book got me thinking. What’s the analogue of the plant’s goal and constraints in engineering?

I think we all know what engineering does, whether it’s digital or on paper. I think we all know a good amount about the difficulties that the engineering organization faces with layoffs with no falloff in workload. We know a lot about the trends in the engineering organization like globalization and the recession. But finding the analogue of the plant’s goal and constraints might not be as easy as you might think. It certainly wasn’t easy for Alex in the book. At that time, there were all sorts of long-standing and well-known trends and initiatives in manufacturing. However Alex didn’t figure out that profitability was the goal of the plant until halfway through the book. He didn’t figure out that production bottlenecks and sales volumes were constraints until not long after he recognized the goal. So let’s pose the same questions here.

What is the goal of the engineering organization?

What are the constraints limiting the engineering organization from achieving that goal?

What do you think? I’ll post my thoughts in a follow up post next week.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.