Goldratt’s Rules of Flow: Page by Page, Chapter by Chapter Review

The Plot

Watch a review of the entire book in sixty seconds.

Isaac Wilson is the founder and CEO of Wilson Engineered Solutions – two of his children work for him. Sam, his daughter, runs a production site for them in the South and Marc runs their engineering team which designs products that are later produced using Sam’s plant. Sam has a family and fulfilling life, Marc does not – his loneliness and single minded focus on work is disheartening.

Isaac has a terminal disease and is thinking about selling the business; he doesn’t tell his kids about the illness until the last chapter. The company’s projects are all late. Customers are angry. In the first chapter a long time customer fires them because of the constant delays.

In response to the potential sale of the business Marc makes the curious decision to get an executive MBA, where he studies in Professor Rick Silver’s class. Kiara is a classmate who works in IT for a financial services business. They learn all about how to improve project implementation using theory of constraints, Marc applies these changes to his business and they work, and he kisses his work crush – an employee named Abby – late in the book, just before Isaac gives him the business because of all the improvements he has made.

The Settings

Offices of the engineering team at Wilson Engineered Solutions.

The book kicks off Chapter 1 here at the corporate offices with a conversation between Marc and Isaac, where Isaac divulges that he may sell the business – but does not tell his key employee AND SON that he has a terminal disease. About a third of the book is set here, and it is an important part of the lessons taught about the rules of flow. It is here that Kyle resigns at the end of Chapter 2 and where Marc’s attraction to Abby is first revealed. The office hosts Marc and Abby’s team as they serve as a foil to the classroom education provided by Professor Richard Silver and the executive MBA course he teaches.

The Executive MBA classroom.

We meet Professor Richard Silver in Chapter 4 who plays a similar role as did Jonah in the original version of The Goal. The classroom is used for 10 of the book’s 27 chapters. Here Marc banters with the Professor and his classmates, including:

  • Kiara, who runs IT at a financial services firm. She has several team members attending the Executive MBA class with her.
  • Charlie, who is with a construction firm. Charlie’s classroom examples often point out the opposite style of projects than what Marc or Kiara may do.

The Wilson family.

Isaac is a lousy dad and boss, based on his hiding a terminal illness, but the family dynamic portrayed by author Efrat Goldratt-Ashlag is both stereotypical and authentic. Marc visits his sister, Sam, in the South where he bikes with his nephew. He sees his family on Thanksgiving. The book closes with Isaac finally revealing his illness at a family dinner.


If I’ve read the original Goldratt’s The Goal – should I read this book?

Yes. However, I also try to re-read the book on a regular basis, as well as use it in training materials with teams. Reading Rules of Flow is much faster, and more contemporary. Certainly if you’re not in a manufacturing environment, this book is much more mapped to project management – a modernized version of Hanging Fire.

If I’ve not read either, which one should I read first?

Start with Rules of Flow – and this is different than the opinion I held when I first started, but the author won me over. It helps to have a more contemporary version, and the original was really oriented towards conventional manufacturing, then the literature around Theory of Constraints was adopted for other approaches like project management and software development. The narrative around rules of flow is tighter and has a tighter resolution – whereas everyone when recalling The Goal forgets that after Alex Rogo’s promotion there are 9 more chapters – almost 10% of the book. Chapter 27 of Rules of Flow neatly ties up Isaac telling his kids about his condition and handing the business over to Marc.

Part 1: Pages 1 – 47, Chapters 1 – 8 (link)

Marc Wilson, age 32, runs the engineering team for his father, Isaac at the business he created Wilson Advanced Solutions. In the first chapter they loose their biggest customer, Doolen, because their projects are too late, which leads Isaac to say he’s thinking of selling the business. Marc enrolls in an executive MBA program, where his Professor Richard Silver teaches a class on rules of flow. Marc visits his older sister, Sam, who runs the production team at a location in the South and has a successful family – Marc is single and lonely. In class Marc learns about triage and the harmful effects of multitasking.

Part 2: Pages 47 – 116, Chapters 9 – 19 (link)

Chapters 9 – 12 kick off with Marc Wilson working with his work-crush Abbie to change their approach to project management; telling the team the plan, iterating once they have feedback, and dealing with customer response to the changing methods. Chapters 13 – 18 introduce the concept of “Full Kit” which is a checklist of the necessary ingredients for a successful completion of the next stage of the project. Chapters 13, 16, and 19 are set in the executive MBA classroom of Rick Silver, who serves as the ‘Jonah’ of Rules of Flow. In Chapter 19, the topic of ‘synchronization’ is introduced.

Marc’s team improves their throughput by making the suggested changes about ‘triage’ and controlling WIP that were made in Chapters 1-8. Marc’s sister running the production site becomes frustrated with a deluge of completed projects, indicating that in the last part of the book we should find some Goldratt perspectives on improving the performance of the entire entity, not just Mark’s realm. This is similar to how Alex Rogo is promoted in Chapter 31 of The Goal and with that gets greater perspective. We learn that Isaac, Marc’s father, has an incurable disease that he has not told his kids about, and that he plans to sell the business to a private equity firm.

Part 3: Pages 117 – 171, Chapters 20 – 27, Pages 117 – 171: The End (link)

Chapter 20 starts at the Thanksgiving dinner table with Mark learning about synchronization from his mother, Laura, in a scenario that will become as popular as Herbie’s scout hike from the original The Goal. This is followed by another likely iconic setting during a bike ride in Chapter 23, where Marc learns about maintaining his energy while cycling with his nephew during a visit with his sister. Between these chapters we’re again in Professor Richard Silver’s executive MBA classroom, where we learn more ways to increase and maintain project flow, as well as the benefits of having high throughput for projects. When he thinks he has accidentally learned of his father’s plan to sell the business, Marc determines that he’ll need to quit – and this gives him the mental permission he needs to finally kiss his crush and employee, Abbie, in Chapter 25. There’s a nice resolution to the classroom setting in Chapter 26 – nicer than the tedious and repetitive introduction and mental debates about the theory of constraints that occupy so many of the chapters in the original The Goal after Alex Rogo’s promotion.

The story resolves quite nicely in Chapter 27; Marc and his sister are summoned to their parent’s house where Isaac hands the business over to Marc, compliments him for the changes he has created using the Theory of Constraints he’s learned in Professor Silver’s course, and let’s both of them know about his terminal disease.

Part 1: Chapter by Chapter

Chapter 1 – “The Big Picture”

Isaac Wilson’s company has just lost its biggest customer because their projects are always behind schedule and late. He tells his son, Marc, an MBA who runs the engineering and project management team, and also mentions that he may find a buyer for the business.

Chapter 2 – “Can’t Miss the Due Dates”

Marc meets with his top two project leaders to talk about changes they can make – the whole activity feels repetitive to him. One of the engineers, Kyle, resigns at the end of the meeting.

Chapter 3 – “Re-evaluating”

Marc goes to a bar, he is single and never pursued the MBA he wanted to get. He turns to alcohol rather than dealing with the real problems in his life.

Chapter 4 – “Undesirable Effects in Multi-Project Environments”

It is now September and Marc attends his first eMBA course on project work taught by Richard Silver; his first rule is to “avoid wasting resources.”

Chapter 5 – “What is Triage?”

Marc works on homework from his executive MBA course over the weekend while reviewing projects at his office.

Chapter 6 – “Triage in Practice”

Back in Marc’s MBA class, there is a discussion about how they implemented the triage homework based on their work experience.

Chapter 7 – “Removing the Nice-to-Haves”

Marc visits his sister, Sam, who runs their production site in the South. She’s not worried about their father selling and has a great family life.

Chapter 8 – “Bad Multitasking”

In Marc’s MBA class, Professor Rick helps the students understand the negative impact of multi-tasking, how it causes delays on projects, and ways to unfreeze their flow of execution.

Part 2: Chapter by Chapter

Chapter 9 – “Will it work?” (Link)

Marc visits with Abbie about cutting the WIP – freezing projects – in order to increase their throughput. Abbie observes that if they want to cut execution time in half, they should probably cut the WIP in half too. These observations are very similar to ones made in Chapter 28 of The Goal.

Chapter 10 – “The Multitasking Game” (Link)

After deciding to move forward in Chapter 9, Marc and Abbie take their idea to the engineering project team – where they meet with some expected resistance. Nonetheless, they persevere.

These observations are very similar to ones made in Chapter 28 of The Goal. The playing of the game is also very similar to what Alex Rogo does with his son’s scout troop in Chapter 14, between Chapters 13 and 15, which encapsulate Herbie’s famous scout hike.

Chapter 11 – “The Misconception About Starting Early” (Link)

Isaac, Marc’s father, hears from a customer that the company’s approach to projects is changing. He meets with Isaac to learn more, and respects his son’s decision to make a bold change. Efrat Goldratt-Ashlag uses a similar writing technique as her father did with Alex Rogo in Chapter 7 of The Goal – the primary character’s ability to retreat is removed, forcing them to try approaches that would otherwise be seen as reckless. Just as Rogo follows Jonah in The Goal to make big changes that are contrary to popular opinion, Marc follows Professor Richard Silver’s guidance on changing their approach to projects because otherwise the business will fail.

Chapter 12 – “Dynamics of Theories and Trends” (Link)

On a Friday evening a few weeks later, Abbie tells Marc that some of the team is idle and unhappy about it. Marc goes on a blind date with Tina. In some ways, the writing about Marc is as unsatisfying as the description of Julie in The Goal.

Chapter 13 – “Full kit” (Link)

Marc is back in Rick Silver’s executive MBA classroom. Professor Silver introduces the concept of “full-kit” or thorough preparation via a written checklist and how to use a stage-gate type process to ensure full-kit before beginning a project. After the class Marc calls Abbie in excitement to let her know he’s got a solution for their woes, and is disappointed to find she is going out on a date.

Chapter 14 – “T Minus Preparation” (Link)

Marc and Abbie roll out the ‘full-kit’ concept to their team. Marc shows Abbie his ‘WIP Board’ and learns that when he caught Abbie on the Saturday evening, her blind date had gone poorly. Abbie and Marc seem lonely, and the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ tension in the writing feels like the constant tension between Alex and Julie Rogo. I wonder if there will be a “You bastard!” misunderstanding scene like there was in Chapter 24 of The Goal.

Chapter 15 – “Enough Weight, Enough Repetitions” (Link)

The author puts the protagonist into a social setting to put the concepts into a different light. Marc lifts with his friend Tim, there are similarities between lifting and focusing on projects. Marc is no longer dating Tina, but hints that he would not date Abbie because she is a co-worker. At just two pages, this short chapter is stylistically similar to Chapter 7 from The Goal; Goldratt used several short chapters to advance the story.

Chapter 16 – “Dosage” (Link)

Marc is back in Professor Rick Silver’s executive MBA course. Professor Richard Silver brings in two guests to talk about the concept of ‘dosage’ for projects, which is really the ‘batch size’ or ‘amount of work done’ for a project. One guest worked in aircraft maintenance and the other in corrections – the concept of dosage helped improve the flow of both of their processes. The concept of dosage here is similar to that of batch size that Goldratt originally focused on in Chapter 28.

Chapter 17 – “Full Kit Before Production” (Link)

The Full-kit concept, first introduced in Chapter 13 continues to be refined – just as Eliyahu Goldratt used Rogo’s experience in the plant to refine key concepts in The Goal. By having clear checklists and only kicking off projects that have the necessary ingredients for success, Marc sees his department is getting more done and the people appear to be happier. His sister, Sam, running the company’s plant is unhappy and calls to tell him so – because Marc’s team increased throughput is releasing more to her team than she is prepared to handle. Similar to the original Goal, where the constraint is perceived to be the robot, the NCX-10, it turns out that there are more constraints once the process is fully mapped. Marc reflects on their situation with Abbie and they note that these ‘gates’ are effective and worth implementing in more positions in their project management process.

Chapter 18 – “Additional Gates” (Link)

We follow our protagonist to a new setting, his parent’s home. Marc has dinner with his parents, Laura and Isaac. A reminder that Isaac is the owner of the business – they apparently haven’t spoken in a month, which is not a good indicator for Isaac’s leadership capabilities. Isaac likes the results of the ‘Rules of Flow’ so far, but shoots down the idea of implementing a “Gate Zero” because he, “understands the customers better.” After Marc leaves, Laura says that his ideas were good, but Isaac rebuffs her as well and we learn that he has some disease that has not been disclosed to his son and that he is under letter of intent (“LOI”) with a private equity firm to sell the business.

It’s easy to put on another hat and see Isaac as a terrible boss and father who doesn’t listen to his son / employee while withholding critical information – his untreatable terminal illness and pending sale of the company. Write this story with that angle and it becomes a warning tale about narcissism and other dark triad activity.

Chapter 19 – “Rework and Standardization” (Link)

Marc is back in his executive MBA course with Professor Richard Silver. The class discusses many topics, Marc observes that local optimization is a trap – in the same way that Jonah pointed out this issue to Alex Rogo in Chapter 8 of The Goal. The fact that rework is a waste of resources and an indicator of other problems is discussed. Rick introduces the concept of synchronization which is the homework assignment.

Part 3: Chapter by Chapter

Chapter 20: Pages 117 – 122 “Synchronization” (Link) Thanksgiving Turkey!

Chapter 20’s focus on the American holiday of Thanksgiving, which focuses on the preparation of a Turkey, can go down as a more famous Goldratt-ian metaphor than Herbie and his famous scout hike from The Goal (Chapter 13Chapter 15). Executive MBA professor Rick Silver has asked his class to study synchronization – which is simply aligning the goals of the organization to the primary constraint. For US Thanksgiving – this is the preparation of the turkey, which takes the longest and utilizes the primary tool for cooking, the oven.

Chapter 21: “One-on-One” Pages 123 – 126

This is a clever chapter title as it reflects at least three ‘one-on-ones’!

  1. Marc has a ‘one-on-one’ meeting with Linda, his top software project lead.
  2. Linda brings up that she wants to go ‘one-on-one’ and focus all her time on the company’s software needs and Marc as a savvy leader agrees with her idea.
  3. Lastly, Marc and Abbie wind up each at the same restaurant – recommended by the clever Linda – where they have dinner together – ‘one-on-one’.

Does that make this chapter a ‘three-on-one-on-one’?

Chapter 22: “What Changes to Expect?” Pages 127 – 135

Marc is back in the Executive MBA classroom of Professor Rick Silver who is teaching the Rules of Flow class. In Chapter 22 of Rules of Flow, Dr. Efrat brings in many of those topics and does so after outlining a topic – dependent events and statistical fluctuations – that drives variability in project execution and planning. Her father extended the topic and its impact to give it depth; her master stroke here is instead to bring the topic together to show its impact and drive home the importance of short communication loops and psychological safety when working on projects.

Chapter 23: “Taking Precautions” aka Marc Goes Cycling (Link), Pages 138 – 142

If there was an extended Goldratt universe, along the lines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU“) then Rules of Flow has now added two new athletic activities – weight training in RoF 15 “Enough Weight, Enough Repetitions” and now a long day out cycling with Marc and his nephew Jack. Marc focuses on time as the constraint to their capacity to go riding, while his nephew gently reminds him that their power – a function of their training, nourishment, and energy – is also a constraint. They must meter their food and water, otherwise they won’t be able to complete the circuit they’ve chosen.

Chapter 24: “Buffer Management” (Link), Pages 143 – 153

Marc attends Professor Rick Silver’s Executive MBA course on Rules of Flow. The class discusses how to allocate times to buffers – usually 1/3 is a good rule of thumb. They discuss the ‘fever’ chart to track project timeliness. Marc realizes that a lot of the minutiae he tracks from his team has now become busywork as he has cut the number of projects and increased the flow of WIP.

Chapter 25: “Lead Time is Getting Shorter” (Link) Pages 155 – 159

Big moves in the plot! Marc gets a call for “Mr. Wilson” and accepts it, but it was really a call to his father and now Marc knows that the business sale is about to close. What an accident? Or was it? Marc shares this message with Abbie in a distraught state, she consoles him and they kiss. It is sad how focused they are on their careers and how it prevents the development of their relationship.

Chapter 26: “How to Get Started” (Link), Pages 161 – 168

Marc attends his final executive MBA course on “Rules of Flow” taught by Rick Silver. They discuss four common scenarios on how to deal with project constraints. Lastly, Silver identifies that the ultimate constraint in an organization is leadership time and their ability to focus attention on the highest value opportunities.

Chapter 27: “The Contingency Plan” – END – (Link), Pages 169 – 171

In the final chapter, we resolve the open issues – and the dreadful waiting game unleashed at the close of Chapter 25 by Isaac on Marc, his son and most valued employee, is brought to a close. Isaac discloses the terminal disease, shared first in Chapter 18, to Marc, and his sister, Sam, who has flown in for the dinner. Marc will be given the company to run, Sam will get a share of ownership – but had conveniently signed away interest in running the business already. Isaac has admired the ‘new ways’ that Marc has brought to the business and been giving him space to run – although to the reader it looked like abandonment.

If you liked this review, check out the highlights from the original, Goldratt’s The Goal.

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