This novel succeeds in being outstanding at so many levels that it could receive a multiple of five stars. It is hard to imagine a management book in novel form ever approaching this one in usefulness. Most people will learn more that they can apply from this book about management than many people learn to apply from an M.B.A.
The basic story is built around the dilemmas facing Alex Rogo, a newly-appointed plant manager. The plant can't seem to ship, it's losing money, and bad things can happen to good people if all this doesn't change soon. Alex is at a loss for what to do until he pulls out a cigar that Jonah, a physicist from Israel, had recently given him. That cigar reminds him to contact Jonah for possible help. From there, the path to recovery begins.
Let me describe some of the many levels on which this novel is valuable.
First, the book explains how to see businesses as systems as well as any other book on this subject. It compares favorably in this area to such important works as The Fifth Discipline and the Fifth Discipline Handbook. The metaphor of how to speed up a slow-moving group of boy scouts will be visceral to anyone who has done any hiking with a group.
Second, the book helps you learn how to improve the performance of a system by providing you with a replicable process that you can apply to analyzing any human or engineering system. The primary metaphor is improving a manufacturing process, but the same principles apply more broadly to other circumstances.
Third, you will experience the power of the Socratic method as a way to stimulate your mind to learn, and to use Socratic questions to stimulate the minds of others to become better thinkers and doers.
Fourth, the authors also use problem simulation as a practical way to help you experience the learning process they are advocating.
Fifth, the book is unusually good in bringing home the consequences of letting your business process run in a vicious cycle: Your family life may also.
The pacing of the book is especially good. You are given time to stew with issues and come up with your own ideas before sample answers are provided by Alex and his staff in the novel.
Unlike many books that take complicated ideas and oversimplify them so the ideas lose their meaning, this book simplifies ideas in ways that enhance their meaning by making the ideas easier to see and employ.
If you do not understand all of the ins and outs of typical factory accounting, you may get a little lost from time to time. But that's not a problem. That accounting just distorts common perceptions of what needs to be done. You can safely skip anything you don't understand if you don't have to deal with such issues.
While I did not observe any overt errors in the book, companies that do not put an asset charge on operational assets could make the mistake from this book of seeking too little profit. You need to earn on-going returns that exceed your cost of capital, too.
You will get the most from this book if you read The Fifth Discipline following it (if you have not read that book already). The discussion of the beer game simulation in The Fifth Discipline will add to your understanding of system dynamics.
Following that book, I suggest that you then read The Balanced Scorecard and The Strategy-Focused Organization for ideas about how to use goals, measurements, and rewards to concentrate attention onto the highest leverage areas for your system.
After you have finished employing what you have learned and helping others around you to learn more also, I suggest that you think about how to optimize the full upside potential more rapidly through the use of irresistible forces and 2,000 percent solutions to speed your progress. That should leave you with even more success and more time to enjoy it.
Unblock the constraints on your progress!