We had a couple of new faces at this meeting – Ursula and John. They are both interested in Agile Software Development very much from the perspective of Lean. Ursula found out about us because she had been following the Poppendiecks when they were in the UK earlier this year and saw that they were coming to our meeting. Apart from the newcomers and myself, there was also Tom, Mick, Miquel and Jamie. So no repeat of last year’s August meeting when poor old Miquel turned up and no-one else could make it…
Both John and Ursula also had older copies of “The Goal”. This earlier version seemed to be quite a bit shorter – less chapters and less pages too. Another interesting difference was the fact that the cover trumpeted the value of OPT (Optimized Production Technology), which gets no mention in the current edition. Apparently this was Eli Goldratt’s proprietary system to apply the theory of constraints. John said that you had to feed figures into a mainframe program and it would tell you what to do. It also cost millions of dollars. Mick pointed out that this wasn’t quite like Jonah in the book saying “don’t pay me until the system is a success”.
I thought it was interesting that Goldratt’s system was built upon the scientific method but that he had then created an implementation of it with secret algorithms. This seems to be at odds with one of the pillars of science, which is peer review. Tom agreed and said that the basis of the scientific method is that you try to break the theory.
Looking at the book as a whole, I found it to be slightly contrived in places. But this was forgiveable in order to keep the action going. So Jonah would pop up, dispense a few pearls of wisdom and then disappear. John said he found it “a bit too apple pie” for his liking, whereas Jamie likened it to a Michael Crichton novel. Miquel said that he thought that the main thrust of the book, apart from the theory of constraints, was that you should question conventional wisdom. I mentioned that I kept having visions of the Fry and Laurie sketches with the two business men who say things like “Damn it John!” all the time. This got blank looks all round so I moved swiftly on…. [Here's one on YouTube]
John said that he’d actually implemented these theories when he worked for Lucas. Previous to this the predictive system MRP (Materials Requirement Planning) had been considered the best way to do things. But they implemented the techniques of Kanban and “Permission to Manufacture”. He also mentioned the flood metaphor, where a factory full of inventory is like a river in full flood. You can sail anywhere you like without problem. As the stock levels are reduced, the rocks start appearing, i.e. problems show themselves. So you lower the level, cope with the temporary chaos, adapt to the new situation and repeat.
Tom said he was expecting some revelation at the end of the book about who Jonah was. He was a bit surprised when this didn’t happen. I also had this experience. I guess it leaves the reader wanting to read the next book! Jamie said that he was slightly confused when reading the interview at the back of the book by the sudden introduction of the acronym TOC. It was only on the third or fourth usage that it was explained that this meant ‘Theory of Constraints’.
Ursula’s interest lies in comparing Lean with Agile and seeing if there any practices of the former with no analogue in the latter. She asked what bottlenecks map to in the world of software. Tom said that he thought that incomplete requirements were similar to the idea in the book of the constraint being in the market. Miquel said he thought it was hard to find bottlenecks because you don’t have a physical production line to look at. In fact, in most agile methodologies you tend to avoid having the traditional analyst-architect-developer-tester pipeline. Mick said that there was a danger that people might try to turn software development into a “sausage factory” production line so that they could then apply Goldratt’s theory to make it more productive.
There were lots more interesting discussions, but my notes and my memory run out at this point.