Where's (your) Herbie?

Wheres your herbie is based on the business book the goal and teaches us about lean manufacturing

While I was running recently I got thinking about my friend, Dr. Donn Novotny.  If that name does not sound familiar --- Donn is the real-life “Alex Rogo” in the highly acclaimed and highly read business novel “The Goal”***.

I met Donn while at Herman Miller where he provided Theory of Constraints training to our operations team (a.k.a., Jonah training). 

Herbie and the Boy Scouts

In The Goal, Herbie is a boy scout who (do to an over indulgence of Snicker bars) moves a little slower then the rest of the scouts while out on a Saturday morning hike. Each time the scouts get up a good head of steam they have to stop and wait for Herbie who time after time falls behind the pack. 

Finally, the scout leader decides to lighten Herbie’s load by giving his back pack (full of food) to another scout in hopes he will be able to keep up. This helps but still he falls behind. 

Eventually the scout leader gets the brilliant idea of moving Herbie from the back of the line to the front of the line. 

With Herbie in front, the line moves slower but at least it keeps moving. 

Rapid Continuous Improvement

By now you may be asking --- what’s the point? 

The Theory of Constraints, in its simplest form, is a great rapid continuous improvement program.  

In any and all business processes, there is always a step that is the constraint, the bottleneck, the limiting factor, the Herbie, that prevents the process from flowing at an optimal rate.  Remove Herbie and the flow (output) increases. 

In your manufacturing flow, finding Herbie is easy. There will be a pile of work in the step before the bottleneck and a lack of work in the step after it.  

Here’s the catch. Eliminate Herbie and another will appear. Eliminate that Herbie and yet another will appear … so on and so forth. 

***The Goal is an operations management case study written by Eli Goldratt in 1984. It is focused on operational bottlenecks and how to alleviate them. Time Magazine listed The Goal as one of "The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books”.


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About Mark

Contributor Mark Groulx of Tips from the Trenches small business blog

I share small business tips and lessons that I've learned from 40 years of business experience in both starting and running companies.

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