The Lean Manager: Part 2 – The Basics

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This is Part 2 of a multi-part review. Part 1 is here.

In my review of Kaizen Express back in May, I took LEI to task for two things – First, I didn’t feel Kaizen Express contributed anything really new to the body of knowledge. I would have been satisfied if it had more clearly explained what had been said before, but it didn’t do that either. Second, and more importantly, I felt that Kaizen Express, and the LEI in general, were propagating the conception that the tools were what defined “lean” and that “the tools” were “the basics.” I disagreed on both points, and still do.

I am now about halfway through The Lean Manager, and I believe this book is addressing those issues – and hopefully challenging some of the thinking within the publishers. In other words, in its content, this book is everything that Kaizen Express isn’t. Get it. Read it. Do what it says, and you will actually be implementing the basics.

What makes this different? Instead of revolving around technical descriptions of the tools, this book clearly shows the proper relationship between the tools and the two most important aspects of what makes the Toyota Production System work:

  • Leaders (and how they lead and what they lead – and it isn’t implementing the tools)
  • People (yes, other books pay lip service by mentioning shop floor engagement, but The Lean Manager is all about shop floor engagement)

The authors start to hammer home the point in Chapter 2, Everybody, Every Day. In one of the many lecturettes they use to convey the key points via their characters, Amy, a corporate consultant, sums it up:

Everybody, everyday solving problems, that’s the only answer to the Pareto dilemma. You’ve got to visualize two flows in the plant. One: the product flow[. . .].  Two: the problem flow to the person who finally solves the problem. [. . .] you shouldn’t funnel all problems to your key technical people. You should protect them to work on the really difficult issues. What you have to organize is the problem solving in the line!”

And with that, the rest of the story follows – this fictitious plant manager under fire in this fictitious company sets out to do that.

The subsequent chapters (so far – remember, I haven’t finished the book yet) are Go and See, which hammers home the importance of the leaders – all of the leaders being present, not just to witness problems, but to ensure they are being solved by the right people, in the right way. Further, they must break down any barriers which impede that flow. And it’s not just the leaders. Ultimately, the entire shop floor is organized so that everyone is immersed in genchi genbutsu every time a task is carried out or work is performed. This becomes the check in PDCA.

Chapter 3 is titled Managing is Improving and begins the confront the psychological and organizational aspects of the changes that are now coming to a head in the story. This part requires the most creativity on the part of the authors, as it is an entirely human process. Because it is a human process, not a technical one, it is impossible to write a technical manual on how to do it. It requires knowledgeable, dedicated leadership that is humble enough to stake out a position that might be wrong, knowing that doing so improves the chance of learning something.

And that has been the issue in our industry. It is far, far easier to describe the tools in excruciating detail than it is to confront the leadership and organizational change issues. And because the technical descriptions predominate the literature (including, and especially what has come out of LEI for the last 10+ years), it is far easier to believe that “implementing the tools” is something that leaders can delegate to specialized technical staff.

This book, so far, is (rightly) turning that thinking on its ear.

Continued at Part 3.

5 Replies to “The Lean Manager: Part 2 – The Basics”

  1. Mark,

    Is this really a sequel? I haven’t gotten around to reading The Gold Mine yet. LEI calls it a sequel but it sounds like you are talking about original characters. Is it just “in the same vein” as The Gold Mine or is it actually an extension of the first book? I still want to read the goldmine some day but you have me intrigued by this for now.


    1. Kris –
      No, I don’t think it is a sequel in the sense that I don’t believe it continues the story from The Gold Mine.
      That being said, I admit that my reading of The Gold Mine was a while ago, and I couldn’t get into it. I found it so tools-focused I only got about 1/2 way through it.

      The Lean Manager is totally different. The change-agent character (the CEO) is a true sensei – he is teaching people, not implementing tools, and he brings in his mentor as well as another qualified sensei to help. The protagonist – the plant manager – is the one driving the change in his own plant, not delegating it to a staff. In those ways, the story line is similar to The Goal – and indeed, just about every “sticky” implementation I have ever seen.

      I have a few quibbles about The Lean Manager but they are mostly about the editing and presentation, maybe a bit long on the “lecturettes” as the means of communicating technical information. I’d also like, someday, to see a book in this genre written from the point of view of the “Jonah” or sensei character. It would be a nice change. “Managing to Learn” took a stab at that, but I don’t think it worked very well.

  2. Mark,

    Can’t wait to read part 3! thanks for this very sharp review of the book – everybody everyday is indeed the core message, I am really glad that comes across!

    and thanks for the suggestion as well. We keep toying with the idea of a blue book to complete a trilogy, on lean engineering. We had in mind to make Amy the lead character, but couldn’t quite think of a good storyline. How about Amy trying to be sensei to a industrial company and failing because the problem is in product development and not production, and having to call Jenkinson for help? I like it!

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