Patton's Picks from the PMA Library: The Goal

January 2021

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

If you're looking for book recommendations in the productivity and professional development genre, Patton offers a weekly summary of some of the essential and emerging titles from the PMA Library.

Eli Goldratt's The Goal has been a business school favorite since its initial publication in 1984, and employs a similar "business fable" design akin to Patrick Lencioni's work such as The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. The story format makes explanations of operations management and the Theory of Constraints much more accessible than you might imagine a story about an assembly line process would be. Incorporating his own theories of systems thinking, Goldratt also pays tribute to production models developed by Henry Ford as well as Toyota's Just-in-Time manufacturing. So what can reading this do for you as a nonprofit leader?


  1. It will force you to consider: "are we focused on the right goals?" The book illustrates how easy it is to accept at face value "we've always done it that way" as the reason certain activities are prioritized. While the plant in the story needed a crisis to force it to confront many built-in assumptions, I was struck by two nonprofit equivalents: choosing to chase social media (vanity) metrics versus personal conversations with key donors, or insisting on an annual special event even if it is actually losing money. 
  2. The value of collaborative leadership. The main character Alex models a collaborative style of inquiry bringing in his leadership team for individual and collaborative conversations to assure their varied perspectives are utilized for each strategic challenge, which also strengthens their leadership "muscles" as well as creates a succession-planning model.
  3. The importance of developing an internal process to evaluate and exploit challenges your organization faces in achieving its primary goal. Of course, this forces a clear understanding of the primary goal of the organization versus metrics that may dominate activities and reporting (a nonprofit equivalent might be fundraisers focused only on contact report volume versus actually developing quality relationships). 

Eliyahu Goldratt was an author, educator, physicist, philosopher, and business leader. He was the author of several business novels and non-fiction works, mainly on the application of the theory of constraints to various manufacturing, engineering, and other business processes.