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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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I crack open my briefcase on my lap and pull out the ad- vance copy of the program the association sent me.

"Here we are," I say, and read the listing to him. " 'Robotics: Solution to America's Productivity Crisis in the new millenium... a panel of users and experts discusses the coming impact of indus- trial robots on American manufacturing.' '

But when I look back to him, Jonah doesn't seem very im- pressed. I figure, well, he's an academic person; he's not going to understand the business world.

"You say your plant uses robots?" he asks.

"In a couple of departments, yes," I say.

"Have they really increased productivity at your plant?"

"Sure they have," I say. "We had-what?" I scan the ceiling for the figure. "I think it was a thirty-six percent improvement in one area."

"Really... thirty-six percent?" asks Jonah. "So your com- pany is making thirty-six percent more money from your plant just from installing some robots? Incredible."

I can't hold back a smile.

"Well... no," I say. "We all wish it were that easy! But it's a lot more complicated than that. See, it was just in one depart- ment that we had a thirty-six percent improvement."

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Jonah looks at his cigar, then extinguishes it in the ashtray.

"Then you didn't really increase productivity," he says.

I feel my smile freeze.

"I'm not sure I understand," I say.

Jonah leans forward conspiratorially and says, "Let me ask you something-just between us: Was your plant able to ship even one more product per day as a result of what happened in the department where you installed the robots?"

I mumble, "Well, I'd have to check the numbers..."

"Did you fire anybody?" he asks.

I lean back, looking at him. What the hell does he mean by that?

"You mean did we lay anybody off? Because we installed the robots?" I say. "No, we have an understanding with our union that nobody will be laid off because of productivity improvement. We shifted the people to other jobs. Of course, when there's a business downturn, we lay people off."

"But the robots themselves didn't reduce your plant's people expense," he says.

"No," I admit.

"Then, tell me, did your inventories go down?" asks Jonah.

I chuckle.

"Hey, Jonah, what is this?" I say to him.

"Just tell me," he says. "Did inventories go down?"

"Offhand, I have to say I don't think so. But I'd really have to check the numbers."

"Check your numbers if you'd like," says Jonah. "But if your inventories haven't gone down... and your employee expense was not reduced... and if your company isn't selling more products-which obviously it can't, if you're not shipping more of them-then you can't tell me these robots increased your plant's productivity."

In the pit of my stomach, I'm getting this feeling like you'd probably have if you were in an elevator and the cable snapped.

"Yeah, I see what you're saying, in a way," I tell him. "But my efficiencies went up, my costs went down-"

"Did they?" asks Jonah. He closes his book.

"Sure they did. In fact, those efficiencies are averaging well above ninety percent. And my cost per part went down consider- ably. Let me tell you, to stay competitive these days, we've got to do everything we can to be more efficient and reduce costs."

34

My drink arrives; the waitress puts it on the table beside me. I hand her a ten and wait for her to give me the change.

"With such high efficiencies, you must be running your ro- bots constantly," says Jonah.

"Absolutely," I tell him. "We have to. Otherwise, we'd lose our savings on our cost per part. And efficiencies would go down. That applies not only to the robots, but to our other production resources as well. We have to keep producing to stay efficient and maintain our cost advantage."

"Really?" he says.

"Sure. Of course, that's not to say we don't have our prob- lems."

"I see," says Jonah. Then he smiles. "Come on! Be honest. Your inventories are going through the roof, are they not?"

I look at him. How does he know?

"If you mean our work-in-process-"

"All of your inventories," he says.

"Well, it depends. Some places, yes, they are high," I say.

"And everything is always late?" asks Jonah. "You can't ship anything on time?"

"One thing I'll admit," I tell him, "is that we have a heck of a problem meeting shipping dates. It's a serious issue with custom- ers lately."

Jonah nods, as if he had predicted it.

"Wait a minute here... how come you know about these things?" I ask him.

He smiles again.

"Just a hunch," says Jonah. "Besides, I see those symptoms in a lot of the manufacturing plants. You're not alone."

I say, "But aren't you a physicist?"

"I'm a scientist," he says. "And right now you could say I'm doing work in the science of organizations-manufacturing orga- nizations in particular."

"Didn't know there was such a science."

"There is now," he says.

"Whatever it is you're into, you put your finger on a couple of my biggest problems, I have to give you that," I tell him. "How come-"

I stop because Jonah is exclaiming something in Hebrew. He's reached into a pocket of his trousers to take out an old watch.

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"Sorry, Alex, but I see I'm going to miss my plane if I don't hurry," he says.

He stands up and reaches for his coat.

"That's too bad," I say. "I'm kind of intrigued by a couple of things you've said."

Jonah pauses.

"Yes, well, if you could start to think about what we've been discussing, you probably could get your plant out of the trouble it's in."

"Hey, maybe I gave you the wrong impression," I tell him. "We've got a few problems, but I wouldn't say the plant is in trouble."

He looks me straight in the eye. He knows what's going on, I'm thinking.

"But tell you what," I hear myself saying, "I've got some time to kill. Why don't I walk you down to your plane? Would you mind?"

"No, not at all," he says. "But we have to hurry."

I get up and grab my coat and briefcase. My drink is sitting there. I take a quick slurp off the top and abandon it. Jonah is already edging his way toward the door. He waits for me to catch up with him. Then the two of us step out into the corridor where people are rushing everywhere. Jonah sets off at a fast pace. It takes an effort to keep up with him.

"I'm curious," I tell Jonah, "what made you suspect some- thing might be wrong with my plant?"

"You told me yourself," Jonah says.

"No, I didn't."

"Alex," he says, "it was clear to me from your own words that you're not running as efficient a plant as you think you are. You are running exactly the opposite. You are running a very in-effi- cient plant."

"Not according to the measurements," I tell him. "Are you trying to tell me my people are wrong in what they're reporting... that they're lying to me or something?"

"No," he says. "It is very unlikely your people are lying to you. But your measurements definitely are."

"Yeah, okay, sometimes we massage the numbers here and there. But everybody has to play that game."

"You're missing the point," he says. "You think you're run- ning an efficient plant... but your thinking is wrong."

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