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A Thriving Community of Practice - Book Report

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I am often asked why the “lean movement” has outlasted so many business improvement movements that have come and gone. For some ad hoc thoughts in response to interview questions in that regard, check out my conversation with Roberto Priolo at Planet Lean.

Surely one sign of the health of any community is the continuing evolution of theory and practice. Given the nature of lean thinking, we look for evolution that is grounded in deep basic thinking and practices that benefit from years—decades even—of refinement so that, used as intended, this new practice has that fundamental thinking embedded inside—a topic that I explored in more depth in this column.

This rich dialogue about the nature of lean has ranged over the years, from the publication of Jim Womack and Dan Jones’ Lean Thinking to the extensive series of The Toyota Way books by Jeff Liker to extrapolations such as The Lean Startup (a kind of “pioneer” application of lean thinking) by Eric Ries and Toyota Kata (which you could call a fundamentalist approach) by Mike Rother. Everywhere you look new threads and twists continue to develop.

Today that spirit of experimentation and learning is going strong: lean theory and practice are thriving here in early 2017 with the arrival of a small but rich batch of new books.  These recent and upcoming books all bring new ideas and new stories that can help grow and energize the lean community.

Lean Strategy — coming soon from McGraw-Hill — offers new arguments for understanding lean thinking as a strategic learning system that enables sustainable competitive advantage through disrupting entire industries.  Authors Michael Ballé, Dan Jones, Jacques Chaize, and Orry Fiume argue that lean strategy is a leader-led, people-centric system for businesses to thrive by disrupting their industries. I am reminded with this work that lean thinking is a process for “operational learning” with learning built into the way work is defined and carried out, in contrast to “organizational learning” which often takes turns that can be abstract and light on the how to actualize it at a practical level.

The Routledge Companion to Lean Management — I was pleased to contribute a chapter, along with Monica Rossi and Jim Morgan about the seriously under-represented dimension of a lean business system: Lean Product & process Development (LPPD). Sometimes misconstrued as merely tools like 3P (useful enough in its own right) and DFM (critically important, yes, but far, far from the full story), LPPD is a critical aspect of fully incorporating lean thinking into any industrial organization—you can’t be a lean enterprise without bringing lean thinking into your product or service development process. The Routledge Companion is a real cornucopia of Topics Lean; as contributor Michel Baudin (Michel’s chapter is “Lean Logistics”) put it, “I am one of 72 leading authors” of this almost-encyclopedia of Lean Management.

Tracey and Ernie Richardson’s The Toyota Engagement Equation (from McGraw-Hill in May) works on many levels. The book shares the engaging stories of Tracey “the Toyota Gal” and Ernie as they learned and grew along with Toyota in Kentucky; while sharing insights about the company and its “DNA” as it progressed along its journey to become an “American company” over the past 30 years. Tracey and Ernie offer practical tips and tools for introducing lean culture and operations in a variety of settings.

Lean legend Art Byrne has published a companion to his The Lean Turnaround book, called the The Lean Turnaround Action Guide. Art, as always, is not shy about sharing his no-nonsense view that lean is THE COMPLETE STRATEGY for your business, along with specific how-to tips that he’s learned from leading lean change in 30 companies over 30 years. Wow, that’s a takt time of one company per year—know anyone who can match that? 

As for LEI, we decided the time was right to bring a new level of detail into the topic of Lean Management—half of the fourth question in the Lean Transformation Framework (LTF) —with our latest publication, The work of Management: A Daily Path to Sustainable Improvement.  The book promises to be a resource that is both useful as a practical guide, and entertaining as a story of the real journey of early lean pioneer Lantech (one of the companies, along with Art Byrne’s Wiremold and others, featured in the Lean Thinking book published 20 years ago).

We asked Lantech CEO Jim Lancaster to share the evolution of the company’s lean business system, from the kaizen workshop blitz approach they initially learned from some of the famous early TPS sensei, to a more holistic lean production system, and now to a Lean Management system for sustainable daily improvement. It’s a great story—entertaining (as Jim shares his mistakes along the way), insightful (as Jim shares his successes along the way) and useful (as Jim shares his lessons learned along the way)!

CEO Jim will present his company’s still-unfolding story at this year’s Lean Transformation Summit in Carlsbad, March 7-8. As always, the Summit (now in its tenth year of exploring real transformation stories!) uses the lens of the LTF to examine real examples in which practitioners share their successes, their struggles, and problems faced, plus the countermeasures tried, their lessons learned, and their thinking about future directions. We like to think about countermeasures rather than “solutions” simply because (forgive me for quoting myself from my own book), “each countermeasure simply creates a new situation which has its own problems that will call for their own countermeasures.” Like the LTF itself, the power of lean thinking is that it is a situational approach to making things better, resting on deep, timeless thinking.  Jim will make no claims that the management system at Lantech is perfect—it’s a system that is still evolving as company managers learn, check, and adjust along the way. As such, it’s a great example for us to learn from, not merely something to copy, as we reflect on our own situations.   

All these books explore lean thinking from different angles, with applications under different conditions, reflecting the essentially situational approach that is lean thinking. What is unchanging in thinking lean is the fact of individuals and organizations learning to make themselves better as they tackle the problems of shortening lead times and eliminating waste in the effort to make things better for customers and communities.


John Shook
Chairman and CEO
lean enterprise Institute

Hope to see you at the Summit in SoCal. BTW, Sammy Obara will share a lean surfing lesson with us and FYI, the Carlsbad surf report as I write this shows waves at about 2-3 feet. Can’t predict March 7-8, but you can follow it here.

2 Comments | Post a Comment
Linda Murphy February 7, 2017

I think Toyota Kata is a "fundamentals" approach, not a fundamentalist approach. Get the basics down and you can take it anywhere!



Lean Green Institute February 8, 2017

Looking forward to all these great reads.  Thanks for sharing!

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