The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement Twenty years after its publication, this intriguing "business novel" still ranks among the top 500 best-sellers at amazon.com and remains required reading for most management programs in business schools around the world.

The Goal's principal setting is a fictional manufacturing plant about to be closed down due to insufficient productivity. In his attempts to find a solution to the plant's terminal woes, plant manager and main character Alex Rogo discovers the Theory of Constraints (TOC). His mentor along the path, Jonah (Rogo's former physics professor), employs the time-honored (and networker's favorite) Socratic method: asking questions without ever providing answers. TOC is based on the premise that organizations exist to achieve a goal (e.g., make money) and enables managers of a system to achieve more towards that goal than the system is designed to produce.

The factors that limit a company's ability to achieve its goal are referred to as bottlenecks, or "constraints." The Process of Ongoing Improvement begins with identifying and managing constraints. TOC helps organizations focus their resources on improving the performance of the true constraint, and therefore the bottom line of the organization.

Alex Rogo discovers this theory over a weekend leading a Boy Scout overnight hike. He uses a chain analogy of the boys all hiking at different speeds and under different conditions of constraint to illustrate why strengthening the weakest link is the most effective way to get lasting improvement. A manufacturing plant can be thought of as a chain of dependent events that are linked together like a chain. The activities occurring in any one link are dependent upon the activities occurring in the preceding link. Just like the Boy Scout troop leader, companies should focus on "chain strength" by working to strengthen the weakest link -- the constraint.

Interwoven in this business plot is the story of Alex Rogo's family life: his marriage is failing due to the long hours he has spent trying to save the plant -- another "constraint" that is quite familiar to any manager who has become obsessed with his work. At the height of his managerial crisis, Rogo's wife Julie leaves him. Will she return? You'll have to read to the story to find out. But I will say this: Rogo learns to apply the story's principles in the domestic context, letting go of the idea of what a good marriage "should" look like and instead asking questions about the goal of their particular marriage. The book concludes with an interesting sort of "open ending," illustrating the fact that life is indeed a process of ongoing improvement.

While aimed as a book about business, The Goal will interest anyone who wants to understand the continuous improvement paradigm in business or any other context.

Paperback: 351 pages, $19.95, North River Press Publishing Corp.