Even if you are familiar with some of the lean transformations covered in The Lean CEO, Jacob Stoller’s new book will yield fresh insights.
Stoller interviews 30-plus CEOs, C-level executives, and change agents who led well-known lean efforts at Wiremold, Lantech, ThedaCare, and Virginia Mason among several others. But the book also explores many less well-known transformations at a variety of industries in the U.S. and elsewhere. Among these are Aluminum Trailer Company, Inc., The Steffes Corporation, E-Leather, A UK startup, and San Benedetto, based near Venice, Italy. (By the way, the stories of Lantech, Aluminum Trailer, Steffes, along with the Ariens Company make up a chapter called “A New Way Out of Financial Crisis,” which has some of the most illuminating and useful information for finance-fixated senior leaders.)
Stoller quotes his executive subjects often and extensively. The result is first-hand testimony from business leaders contesting traditional management practices about everything from accounting to batch size, employee involvement, motivation, leadership, economies of scale, and a raft of other conventional methods.
Not only do these executives reveal their business problems and the various lean approaches they used to help solve them, they also speak openly about their own behavior changes and the behavior changes they see in others. They talk about altered roles, struggles, and how relationships with people improved over time as a result of lean thinking and practice.
The book is organized around “burning platforms,” Stoller says. So you’ll find chapters on “Putting People First,” “Capacity Without Capital Expenditure,” or “Reducing Dependence on the CEO.” Within each are examples from public or privately held industrial or service companies, or nonprofits. Two chapters are reserved for healthcare and government, respectively. The result – always nice for a summer read – is that you can start anywhere that interests you and skip around, if you want.
Stoller has said that The Lean CEO is not a lean primer, which is accurate. But the first two chapters provide an excellent quick overview of essential lean management concepts and their roots that managers who are new to Lean will want to read. More experienced lean thinkers should check them out, too. I found an interesting anecdote about the shaky start to an interview between a TV-producer and crusty quality guru W. Edwards Deming, who shot to fame after being interviewed on the landmark 1980 documentary If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?