Much Ado About Something

Eliyahu Goldratt is an angry old man. He’s not that old per se, but he is surprisingly angry for someone who’s been making his fortune from IT since the early 80s.

Goldratt is best known as the originator of the Theory of Constraints. He was one of the impressive trio of guest star speakers at Université du SI in Paris last week (the other two being French philosopher Michel Serre and the first man on the moon Neil Armstrong). To my surprise, Goldratt was the wildcard of the bunch.

What got us here won’t get us there

‘Technology should give us unbelievable results,’ began Goldratt as a matter-of-fact. ‘Why is it then that we have such amazing processing power and no astonishing results?’ he demanded of the developers, Agilists and academics before him.

According to Goldratt, each organisation is haemorrhaging to death because of a clot in its processes. Organisations existed before computers, therefore the limitations we’re experiencing existed before computers.

The problem is that the old rules for getting things done were based on localised islands of information because that used to be all the information available at the time. Now that the game has changed, the rules aren’t just out-of-date, they’re wrong.

An even bigger problem is that the antiquated rules become set in stone when they are reincarnated as a software system. The result: we make more mistakes faster which result in spiralling costs and inevitable failure if we don’t revise the rules first.


Unlike Michel Serre, who employed pure rhetoric to make a similar point about making the most of one’s ability, Goldratt chose to lambast IT professionals for being irresponsible and ineffective.

According to Goldratt, as IT professionals, we’re creating our own boundary and limiting the success of our organisation. He urged us to go beyond our comfort zone and stretch ourselves beyond our immediate expertise. Goldratt demands we take responsibility for our organisation.

Lost in Translation

After Pascal and I ran our session to demonstrate the Theory of Constraints, a young man came up to me and asked about the relevance of our session at such a technical conference. I remember asking myself the same question after attending the same session at XPDay London run by Pascal several years ago.

‘Because a developer can’t deliver business value through coding alone,’ I replied in French. ‘By understanding how to improve the way your team works at both local and global perspectives, you can help improve your organisation’s throughput by applying the Theory of Constraints.’

The School of Tough Love

Goldratt concluded that, in his experience, people are much better than we think. It only takes one person to change before others follow suit or risk losing out altogether.

According to Goldratt, the way to achieve an easy life is to take a hammer to your head whereupon you’ll be spoonfed for the rest of your life. Goldratt says: Demand more of yourself. What will you choose to do?

One Response to “Much Ado About Something”

  1. Thinking for a Change » Why bother with bottlenecks? writes:

    […] Portia writes about a participant of our Bottleneck session asking her about the relevance of a session on (industrial or manufacturing) process improvement techniques at an IT conference. Portia already told me she had the same reaction when she attended this session at XP Days London in 2005. If you look carefully, you can see Portia at the right, a bit bored as she’s waiting for the bottleneck. […]

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