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Ask Art: What Lean Books Should I Start With?

by Art Byrne
April 28, 2016

Ask Art: What Lean Books Should I Start With?

by Art Byrne
April 28, 2016 | Comments (8)

The only way to really learn lean is by doing it. That is certainly the way I learned and it is what I tell every person who I work with. The key to this is participating on many kaizen, or continuous improvement, activities—they are the ‘doing’ in the ‘learn-by-doing’ aspect of lean. That said, beginners can benefit enormously by learning about the philosophy that lay behind the thinking of the pioneers of TPS (and lean.) Knowing why something was done, the business and human resources rationale, is more important than what was done. The following books share insights into the philosophy and general approach behind lean, and are the ones I generally recommend to newcomers:

  1. Toyota Production System: Beyond Large Scale Production by Taiichi Ohno.





  2. A Study Of The Toyota Production System: From An Industrial Engineering Viewpoint by Shigeo Shingo. It is important to start with the Ohno and Shingo books, as The Toyota Production System is the basis for what we more commonly refer to as lean today. Ohno was the father of TPS; Shingo had a front row seat as an outside consultant and collaborator. As TPS will be the basis of everything we do with lean, is important to get a foundation in what they created and why. Ohno in particular is very good at explaining the whys of the management system he created.

  3. Lean Thinking by Jim Womack and Dan Jones. This 1996 book helped launch the word “lean” into our business vocabulary as a way to think about the Toyota Production System. The authors were part of the original team that coined the phrase at MIT, and this book takes you through the business rationale of starting with the customer and moving all the way through the value stream. The authors were early in recognizing that lean was above all strategic—so this book will help you understand lean in a broad way.

  4. Learning To See by Mike Rother and John Shook. This book will give you the tools and perspective that helps you “see” and then eliminate the waste in your value streams. It takes you step by step through the process of mapping your work and understanding how to improve it.



  5. Real Numbers by Jean Cunningham and Orry Fiume (with Emily Adams). This book looks at lean from the finance and accounting point of view. It explains why traditional standard cost accounting and lean are incompatible and more importantly offers an alternative approach that will facilitate your lean turnaround not fight it. This perspective is important as most companies view lean as “some manufacturing thing” and feel they can adopt it without changing anything else in the way they run their business. This of course is impossible. You can’t just put lean on top of a traditional batch system and expect to be successful. Everything must change.

  6. The Lean Turnaround by Art Byrne. This book is aimed at senior executives and emphasizes that lean is the core strategy to turn around any business. It outlines the key management and lean principles that must be present to have a successful lean turnaround. It also walks you through how to implement a lean turnaround and then how to leverage your success in the marketplace.

 

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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8 Comments | Post a Comment
Nelson O. April 28, 2016

It's important not to confuse people about kaizen. Kaizen and "kaizen events" are not synonymous. It's also (mainly?) daily continuous improvement. I'd therefore suggest Masaaki Imai's books "Kaizen" or "Gemba Kaizen." Or books by Norm Bodek. Or Paul Akers' "2 Second Lean" (which is really 2 Second Kaizen). The shingujitsu kaizen event was supposed to be a demonstration of what's possible with kaizen. It wasn't meant to reinforce that kaizen = weeklong events. 

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art byrne April 28, 2016

Nelson, thanks for your comment. Your right of course that kaizen the word meaning continuous improvement and kaizen used to define an improvement activity or event should not be confused. That wasn't the point I was trying to make. I was merely suggesting a list of books that I think would help anyone interested in starting down the lean path get a good foundation in some of the lean fundamentals. It was not meant to be an exhaustive list and I'm sure that I will get many comments like yours of books I left out. I guess I should appologize in advance for not including all the lean books. Regards, Art.

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Beau Keyte April 28, 2016

This is a nice list of books, and I like each one of them.  From my perspective, the list represents a bias to front line manufacturing, Toyota, and how to "do it."  I think it would be useful to add books that address the service sector and also how all companies in all industries should "coach it" to develop their employees to solve their own problems at all levels of the organization (not just the front line.....).  Plus, there are some great thinkers and doers outside Toyota. 

There are a number of good books, some with Shingo Research Prizes, that puts lean thinking into perspective in other industries.  And, one of the all-time great thinkers and writers on how to "coach it" is Edgar Schein.  He has two somewhat similar books, "Helping" and "Humble Inquiry," which do a great job of challenging how we lead organizations to a different path without the traditional default to “command and control.”  I give all my client leaders copies of "Helping" early on in my engagements. 

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Art byrne May 03, 2016

Beau, thanks for your comments and additions to the list of good lean books. I'm sure I will get other books to add as well and I suppose I should apologize in advance to any authors I left out. Someone, for example already mentioned Imai's books on kaizen. I am a big fan of those books. His first, "Kaizen" was one that helped Me a lot when I first started down the lean path. Later on myself and Wiremold were chapters in his next two books on Gemba Kaizen. Even so, I needed a short list that I felt could be the most effective. Your right that it has a Toyota and manufacturing bias but the fundamental lean teaching is there and many of the most successful non manufacturing implementations followed these fundamentals. Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle is a great example. They started their lean journey at Wiremold and then Toyota. Regards, Art.

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Ron Pereira May 06, 2016

This is a really good list.  I'm also reminded of the advice a Priest gave me when I asked him what bible version I should use... his reply was simple and helpful => the one you'll read!  

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art byrne May 07, 2016

Ron, thanks for your comment. The preist was a wise man. 

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melissa May 19, 2016

I attended "Toyota in Healthcare 101" at a hospital where I work infrequently. The course fascinated me and I see many possibilities with the philosophy and concepts. My full time job is in a social service agency. We see consumers in their homes and set assist with coordination of services. Very little can be streemlined because each consumer has different problems that we have to help them solve.  We work quite independently. We have to answer to payer sources and enter service notes similar to nurse's notes. We operate out of an office type setting. What book/s would you suggest I start with considering this setting Thank you, Melissa

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Arthur Byrne May 19, 2016

Melissa, you may try Transforming Health Care by Charles Kenny wich is about Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle WA, or On The Mend by John Toussaint former CEO of Theda Care in Appleton, WI. For your own business look at the processes you do have either in the office or the forms you need to deal with after visits orones you have to complete for payer sources. All of this lends itself to kaizen improvement. As an example Virginia Mason nurses spend 90% of their time with patients vs an average of 35% for most US hospitals. Think of how this might effect your job. You may conclude that currently you are more in the 35% bracket than the 90% so lots of room for improvement.

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Search Posts:
Key Concepts of Lean
Dave LaHote, David Meier, Ernie Richardson, Joe Murli, Karl Ohaus, Michael Hoseus, Tom Shuker & Tracey Richardson
Lean Thinking, 2nd Edition
By James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones
Learning to See
By Mike Rother and John Shook
Succeeding by Failing
"Too Busy to Walk the Gemba"