Dr Eli Goldratt

Eli GoldrattThis is not so much an obituary as a Scottish testament to the passing of a great man for, as you will see below, Eli Goldratt has died.

He was a great business thinker and a passionate advocate of his better ways of doing business and a great promoter of thinking about how we work together to improve systems and outcomes.

For me he was a huge influence and a great help.

It all started back in 2001, when  I was invited to present to a group of Borders Nationalists on “making the economic case for Independence”.

I thought long & hard about that  on how to do it and of course that tended to result in a long-winded convoluted speech that was likely to lose audience and even the thread of my own argument – so I remember the work of Eli Goldratt and decided to use his approach

Goldratt had developed his Theory of Constraints in a number of excellent books including: “The Goal” and “It’s not luck”. Basically his proposition was this: when faced with any problem such as improving performance, it was sensible to bring all those involved together to sit in front of flip chart stand and record all the issues or conditions that were inhibiting of constraining progress towards the goal.

He went on to advocate that it made sense to transfer each and every constraint on to a post-it note and then seek to use the experience of the participants to build a cause and effect model showing how each constraint impacted the other constraints – and how they interacted to limit the achievement of the desired outcome.

Goldratt believed that this exercise, once complete, would allow people to see the bigger picture and enable them to agree which constraint caused the biggest negative impact and/or caused the most secondary and tertiary problems.

His philosophy being that when you found that core problem, that key constraint, and you still wanted to optimise the system, then you course of action should be to address that constraint before anything else and then repeat the whole process once things settled down. I used it that day in the Borders – proved that our core problem was our lack of economic powers – and then used that experience to take the Economic Case to the boardrooms and committee rooms of Scotland for the next 6 years.

I believe it was effective and I told Dr. Goldratt of this when I met him in Amsterdam in October 2009, when he took delight in knowing that his work had helped make our argument in Scotland.

I also suspect that other work of his helped Scotland because I remember slipping George Reid, the parliament’s Presiding Officer, a copy of Goldratt’s book “The Critical Chain”, back in 2003 when George was also acting project manager for the new Scottish Parliament.  That book and the underlying Critical Chain approach helped people speed up projects and I like to think that they helped George and his colleagues get the parliament open in October 2004: an outcome that looked unlikely in the summer of 2003.

If not, then it was no fault of Eli Goldratt, for he told me in Amsterdam that in Japan no government contract for a school, a bridge, a hospital could be awarded unless the contractor was committed to using Goldratt’s Critical Chain methodology.

For that and his many other contributions – this is a man who will be remembered and whose legacy will go on and on.

Jim Mather

The photograph of Dr Eli Goldratt above is by copyright holder Hrbaptista and is reproduced here under the Creative Commons licence.

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