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Summer Reading

by Tom Ehrenfeld
July 24, 2014

Summer Reading

by Tom Ehrenfeld
July 24, 2014 | Comments (7)

Let’s pretend for a moment that some of us diehard lean groupies will read about this topic for light-hearted summer fun (oh drat—I got sand in my Fujimoto book!) Here’s a few (not all! please!) of my personal favorites that I frequently recommend.

Before listing my top half-dozen (a list that could be rotated completely given the time of day and temperature outside) let me name-check a round of lean books I love that don’t make this list: A Factory of One by Dan Markovitz, Beyond Heroes by Kim Barnas, Creating Level Pull by Art Smalley, The Birth of Lean, Inside the Mind of Toyota by Hino, anything by Takahiro Fujimoto, etc.

Toyota Production System by Taichi Ohno

If Henry Ford’s writing is the old testament of Lean I’d call the work of Ohno the New Testament (and while off the top of my head I can’t extend this metaphor to include the works of Womack/Jones… they belong with these guys). Above all I’d pick Toyota Production System, a simple, presentation of the key ideas of TPS (and Lean.) Many of us are deeply familiar with basic themes he pursues such as absolute elimination of waste, establishing flow as the basic condition, using standard work and 5why, and seeing true teamwork as essential. But there’s much more. For example, only now am I finally discovering companies making a real effort to realize what Ohno sought at Toyota: an “autonomic nervous system in the business organization” (i.e. a company with a complete nervous system functioning like its counterpart in the human body).

Gemba Walks by Jim Womack

Gemba Walks is a lovely overall introduction to Lean in the form of short and engaging essays by Jim Womack on a wide range of topics. You can practically hear the author’s voice in an engaging book that generates many “ahas” about the essence of Lean. I cannot re-read this book and fail to learn something new. Above all I love the sense of discovery by the author. For more than a decade Womack served as a “designated learner” for the lean community who would visit a specific gemba, observe it deeply, and after reflection, codify his learning in a way that resonated deeply with the community he helped form. While there is no overly manufactured narrative argument to this collection, reading the entirety of the book provides a thorough understanding of Lean on both matters big and small.

Managing to Learn by John Shook

This might be the most dynamic and broad-reaching lean book of all. Based loosely on the author’s personal experience at Toyota, MTL reveals how a deceptively simple tool (which is much more than a “tool” of course) known as the A3, when used properly, produces almost magical results. Teams become aligned, decisions become radically more effective, and knowledge is actually produced through the creation of meaningful organizational “currency” generated by and codified in a commonly understand container. No other resource captures the essence of learning to learn (which may be the essence of lean) so powerfully. An elegant narrative that harvests the personal story of the author to share a powerful way of thinking with universal appeal.

The Lean Turnaround by Art Byrne

Lean IS the strategy, plain and simple. Not an improvement method, nor a way to manage people (though both are part of the plan.) As someone who has successfully lead Lean at dozens of companies (including the famed Wiremold), Art Byrne recognizes the power of Lean as a complete business approach touching EVERYTHING in the business—finance, HR, operations... (did I mention) everything. This book challenges readers to accept no compromises and go all in on Lean. Though less than 200 pages, in some ways this book’s emphasis on how Lean changes EVERYTHING qualifies it as one of the most comprehensive guides on the topic.

Profit Beyond Measure by Tom Johnson and Anders Broms

Every company has a simple strategic choice to make: Relationships versus Quantity. Either Management by Means (MBM), or, Management by Results (MBR). Only one of these approaches promises to reinforce natural-system thinking. (It’s MBM.) Essentially, this book taps an unparalleled understanding of traditional accounting, TPS, Scania, and the way businesses operate to share brilliant insights into the nature of business systems.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  books,  learning,  musings
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Managing to Learn: The Use of the A3 Management Process
David Verble, Eric Ethington, Ernie Richardson, John Shook, Josh Howell, Karen Gaudet, Mark Reich & Tracey Richardson
The Birth of Lean: Conversations with the Founders of TPS
By Koichi Shimokawa and Takahiro Fujimoto (Editors)
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7 Comments | Post a Comment
RalfLippold July 24, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Great reading list - some of which are not yet on my shelf. 

My tip for the summer is "Humble inquiry - The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling" by Edgar H. Schein (the title itself says it all). A rather short, though the more insightful, and practical booklet. 

Best from Dresden,

Reply »

Tom Ehrenfeld July 24, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this reply
Ralf--I read "Humble Inquiry" earlier this year and enjoyed it greatly. Thanks for the recommendation!

Reply »

Frank July 24, 2014
Try his book "Helping."  Great insight from a great mind on the art of providing help.  Great book.

Reply »

Ajay Shinde August 23, 2018


Good article!!

Any good book you know about applying lean to personal (own) work,

One I know is Factory of one, but havnt yet gone thru.

Any recommodations?




Reply »

Reply »

Bob July 24, 2014
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand In the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmall & Amy Wallace. One word - amazing! See how Deming and Toyota helped shape Pixar. See how a Manager transitioned to a Leader.

Reply »

Thijs July 24, 2014

J. Liker - The Toyota Way
14 Lean principles which teach us that Lean is not only process focused, but also include Philosophy, People & Partners and Problem Solving.



M. Rother - Toyota Kata
Don´t just randomly improve processes; define a target condition for faster measurable results! Coach your employees in problem solving so that everybody in the organization can participate in improvement activities.



N. C. W. Webers – Performance Behavior
Deploy your Target Condition into behavioral indicators for every department (Hoshin), based on short intervals (F.I. hourly) and only visual signals to show status of each process (red/green)



D. Mann – Creating a Lean Culture
Use a 3 level Meeting structure (Leadership standard work) to communicate the results of Behavioral indicators throughout the organization. Use communication cells as tool for communication.



F. Ballé & M. Ballé - The Lean Manager
Improve not only the flow of products, but also the flow of Problems. Management plays an important role in improving this flow by doing Gemba walks (leadership standard work).



P. Senge – the Fifth Discipline
Make sure your improvement activities scope the entire organization! Become a real learning organization by following these five principles.



E. M. Goldratt – The Goal
Focus on optimizing the flow of products through the entire plant by optimizing bottlenecks machines only, using the Drum-Buffer-Rope principle.


Reply »

K Chase December 08, 2015

"Profit Beyond Measure" was very interesting and beneficial.

Reply »

Search Posts:
Managing to Learn: The Use of the A3 Management Process
David Verble, Eric Ethington, Ernie Richardson, John Shook, Josh Howell, Karen Gaudet, Mark Reich & Tracey Richardson
The Birth of Lean: Conversations with the Founders of TPS
By Koichi Shimokawa and Takahiro Fujimoto (Editors)
Leaning Up Baby
Learning Through Struggle
Lean Books Roundup
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