Somehow, all the books about Lean are written for managers. Or so it seems. There is not one book I’ve encountered written for operational personnel. I think it is a shame, for Lean is about using the expertise of the operational staff. As Lean is about getting personnel engaged, there should be more books for them in an understandable and easy-reading way. Here are some recommendations from my side.
Since I am no novelist, I do not know how to write such a book myself. What I can do, is choose my favorite books to read. As I do highly value the “real” management books, they are just written very much for managers. It contains a lot of valuable information. The downside of most books available, is that the information is written in quite a difficult way, not very accessible for the ‘ordinary’ Jane or John (no pun intended by this, I am a Jane myself).
You can’t do Kaizen just once or twice and expect immediate results. You have to be in it for the long haul.
I started with The Toyota Way (J.K. Liker) and I found it not only highly interesting, but also relatively easy to read. It was fascinating to read how a small automotive company in the far Japan became the largest automobile manufacturer in the world and how it retains this position year after year. After this book, I read Lean Thinking; Banish waste and create wealth in your corporation (D. Jones & J. Womack), which I thought was very hard to read. Not only a lot of text is used, the context is such that ‘normal employees’ (operational staff) cannot bond with the topic. I highly value the information, but for me, in the end it was a no-goer because I found it unpleasant to read.
The books Kaizen (M. Imai) and Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production (T. Ohno) were a bit hard to read, but also highly interesting because these are more or less first-hand experiences from (former) Toyota employees on becoming Lean from the start. More important, these books are written from the Japanese point of view, which is different from the US (and West-European) point of view.
Andon works only when you teach your employees the importance of bringing problems to the surface so they can be quickly solved.
Recently, I discovered the business novels and I must admit that I love it. My interest in Lean thinking and working is rekindled by reading them. For the starting Lean-student or those who are interested in Lean but not really sure whether it is something you want to learn and practice or not, I would recommend Everything I know about Lean I learned in the first grade (R. Martichenko). A fine, easy-reading book with a good story, illustrations and some lessons at the end of each chapter. It is about a Lean consultant whose youngest daughter has her first day at school. The school facilitates a ‘parent’s day’; one of the parents is allowed to join throughout the day. The author recognizes and describes Lean situations in an entertaining way. At the end of the chapter, there are three mayor lessons described.
I have also discovered the business novels by Michael and Freddy Ballé. These books provide more information than the above mentioned book, but it is easy-reading as well and I found it very entertaining. What I especially like, is how the human (management) struggle to become Lean and how to implement Lean thinking throughout the company is described. Somehow, it makes it more recognizable.
Lead with respect is a practice, mind you – a number of actions and approaches that enable us to realize this as something we do, rather than something we merely say.
Freddy & Michael Ballé
During my search for good books on Lean, I have discovered that a lot of books focus on banishing waste only (not good) or the use of Lean tools. As a purist I would not recommend these books to start with, for I doubt that these books emphasize the importance of creating a Lean environment, which is in my opinion more important than which tools are used. Tools are after all tools and using them without knowing why is only doing Lean, not being Lean (a great article on this is found here).
To me, the problem is that Lean has become very popular to gain quick wins, and a lot of people want to surf the Lean wave. A side effect is that a lot of books have “Lean” in the title or summary. When bought and read, the book sometimes disappoints because the essence of Lean isn’t there, it isn’t practical enough or it just focuses on one or two items (preferably practices or tools) in Lean. When searching for good books, read reviews, check websites and so on. Just as I did, you will learn to separate good from not-so-good titles.
If you have any ‘must reads’ you would like to recommend, please don’t hesitate to do so on Twitter, hashtag #GoingLean. I am looking forward to it.
I have no personal or financial bonds with the authors, retailers and/or publishers as mentioned above. There is no personal or financial gain for me. I have no business connections whatsoever and I am not tied to any of the above. The list is based purely on my own reading experience.