Those whose careers span a lengthy involvement in the manufacturing sector, and those younger but with a keen interest in productivity improvement in manufacturing, will no doubt recall the name of Eli Goldratt, who passed away on June 11th.
Eli (actually Eliyahu M. Goldratt) gained fame as the author of the seminal business novel (a novel concept in itself at the time) “The Goal.” The book went on to sell an astounding thirty million copies in about 50 languages. Goldratt was an Israeli physicist whose own critical path took him into the world of management consulting – some would say, guru.
His work on optimizing productivity in business, and particularly in an area he dubbed the “Theory of Constraints” serves as the foundation today to dramatic process improvements across the business spectrum. TOC principles have been applied with great success over the past 25 years at businesses large and small across the world.
By looking at resources and their flow, and identifying key constraints, Goldratt and his many cohorts and later firm members built an industry around, essentially, solving problems via a rigorous intellectual approach — critical thinking skills. By identifying constraints, raising and addressing them to find the next constraint, and so on, Goldratt and the members of his Avraham Y. Goldratt Institute (which he named for his father upon its founding in 1986) were able to apply a mathematical, scientific and heavily logic-based methodology to problem solving in engineering, production and other business processes.
Goldratt had a strong local connection (local to us here in northernIndiana). For sixteen years, Dr. Donn Novotny was partners with Eli, later leaving the Institute to form his own organization, The Goal Institue. Donn lives in Elkhart, Indiana, our neighbor city to South Bend.
Notably, to readers of “The Goal” Donn was the inspiration for the lead character and plant manager Alex Rogo – in effect, Donn was Alex Rogo. Donn is a good friend and we’ve sponsored him on multiple occasions at our own firm’s events. He continues the tradition of both institutes to this very day, by continuing to lecture on and teach the principles of TOC (among others) to any company or group willing to listen.
I’ve personally worked with Donn when he helped our firm and learned much from his cerebral approach to problem solving. By liberal use of his hand-drawn graphics, careful logic, and the use of the “cloud” concept regarding constraints (a “cloud” metaphor that long preceded the one we hear so many IT writers opine about today…), Donn is able to intelligently and beautifully apply critical thinking skills to problem solving that any company could take advantage of today – once taught through the skillful presentation of someone like Donn.
Goldratt’s loss as a modern business thinker is regrettable. Thankfully, his acolytes and fellow consultants, like Donn, continue the tradition – one aimed at improving the lives and lots of businesses and the people that run them and work in them.
We originally wrote about Eli and Donn’s work early in 2007 in a series of seven posts that begins here.