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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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When she leaves, I pick up the phone again. "Hello, Mom? It's Alex." "Have you heard from Julie yet?" she asks. "No, I haven't," I say. "Listen, Mom, would you mind stay- ing with me and the kids until Julie gets back?"

At two o'clock I slip out to pick up my mother and take her to the house before the kids get home from school. When I arrive at her house, she's at the door with two suitcases and four card- board boxes filled with half of her kitchen.

"Mom, we've already got pots and pans at my house," I tell her.

"They're just not the same as mine," she says.

So we load the trunk. I take her and her pots and pans over to the house and unload. She waits for the kids to come home from school, and I race back to the plant.

Around four o'clock, at the end of first shift, I go down to Bob Donovan's office to find out what the story is on Smyth's shipment. He's waiting for me.

"Well, well, well. Good afternoon!" says Bob as I open the door and walk in. "How nice of you to drop by!"

"What are you so happy about?" I ask him.

"I'm always happy when people who owe me money drop by," says Bob.

"Oh, is that right?" I ask him. "What makes you think any- body owes you money?"

Bob holds out his hand and wiggles his fingers. "Come on! Don't tell me you forgot about the bet we made! Ten bucks, re- member? I just talked to Pete and his people are indeed going to finish the hundred units of parts. So the robot should have no problem finishing that shipment for Smyth's plant."

"Yeah? Well, if that's true I won't mind losing," I tell him.

"So you concede defeat?"

"No way. Not until those sub-assemblies get on the five o'clock truck," I tell him.

"Suit yourself," says Bob.

"Let's go see what's really going on out there," I say.

We take a walk out on the floor to Pete's office. Before we get there, we pass the robot, who's brightening the area with its weld


flashes. Coming the other way are two guys. Just as they pass the welding area, they stop and give a little cheer.

"We beat the robot! We beat the robot!" they say.

"Must be from Pete's department," says Bob.

We smile as we pass them. They didn't really beat anything, of course, but what the hell. They look happy. Bob and I con- tinue on to Pete's office, which is a little steel-sided shack among the machines.

"Hello there," says Pete as we walk in. "We got that rush job done for you today."

"Good, Pete. But do you have that log sheet you were sup- posed to keep," I ask him.

"Yes, I do," says Pete. "Now where did I put it?"

He sorts through the papers on his desk, talking as he hunts for it.

"You should have seen my people this afternoon. I mean, they really moved. I went around and told them how important this shipment is, and they really put themselves into it. You know how things usually slow down a little at the end of a shift. But today they hustled. They were proud when they walked out of here today."

"Yeah, we noticed," says Bob.

He puts the log sheet down on top of a table in front of us.

"There you are," he says.

We read it.


"Okay, so you only got nineteen pieces done in the first hour," I say .

"Well, it took us a little longer to get organized, and one guy was late coming back from lunch," says Pete. "But at one o'clock we had a materials handler take the nineteen over to the robot so it could get started."

"Then from one to two, you still missed the quota by four pieces," says Bob.

"Yeah, but so what?" says Pete. "Look what happened from two o'clock to three: we beat the quota by three pieces. Then when I saw we were still behind, I went around and told every- one how important it was for us to get those hundred pieces done by the end of the shift."

"So everyone went a little faster," I say.

"That's right," says Pete. "And we made up for the slow start."

"Yeah, thirty-two pieces in the last hour," says Bob. "So what do you say, Al?"

"Let's go see what's happening with the robot," I say.

At five minutes past five o'clock, the robot is still turning out welded sub-assemblies. Donovan is pacing. Fred walks up.

"Is that truck going to wait?" asks Bob.

"I asked the driver, and he says he can't. He's got other stops to make and if he waits for us, he'll be late all night," says Fred.

Bob turns to the machine. "Well, what the heck is wrong with this stupid robot? It's got all the parts it needs."

I tap him on the shoulder.

"Here," I say. "Look at this."

I show him the sheet of paper on which Fred has been re- cording the output of the robot. From my shirt pocket, I take out Pete's log and fold the bottom of it so we can put the two pieces of paper together.

Combined, the two of them look like this:

I tell him, "You see, the first hour Pete's people did nineteen pieces. The robot was capable of doing twenty-five, but Pete deliv- ered less than that, so nineteen became the robot's true capacity for that hour."

"Same with the second hour," says Fred. "Pete delivered twenty-one, the robot could only do twenty-one."


Output = 90 pcs.

"Every time Pete's area got behind, it was passed on to the robot," I say. "But when Pete delivered 28 pieces, the robot could still only do twenty-five. That meant that when the final delivery of thirty-two pieces arrived at four o'clock, the robot still had three pieces to work on from the last batch. So it couldn't start on the final batch right away."

"Okay, I see now," says Bob.

Fred says, "You know, the most Pete was ever behind was ten pieces. Kind of funny how that's exactly the number of pieces we ended up short."

"That's the effect of the mathematical principle I was trying to explain this morning," I say. "The maximum deviation of a preceding operation will become the starting point of a subse- quent operation."

Bob reaches for his wallet.

"Well, I guess I owe you ten bucks," he says to me.

"Tell you what," I say. "Instead of paying me, why don't you give the money to Pete so he can spring for a round of coffee or something for the people in his department-just a little way to say thanks for the extra effort this afternoon."


"Yeah, right, that's a good idea," says Bob. "Listen, sorry we couldn't ship today. Hope it doesn't get us in trouble."

"We can't worry about it now," I tell him. "The gain we made today is that we learned something. But I'll tell you one thing: we've got to take a close look at our incentives here."

"How come?" asks Bob.

"Don't you see? It didn't matter that Pete got his hundred pieces done, because we still couldn't ship," I say. "But Pete and his people thought they were heroes. Ordinarily, we might have thought the same thing. That isn't right."


When I get home that evening, both of the kids greet me at the door. My mother is in the background, with steam pouring out of the kitchen. I presume it has something to do with dinner and that she has everything under control. In front of me, Sharon's face is beaming up at me.

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