Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Book Review: The Lean CEO

There has been a lot of literature on Lean implementations over its initial 25 years but now there is a book providing new insight. The Lean CEO: Leading the Way to World-Class Excellence by Jacob Stoller is the result of in-depth conversations with over 30 individuals who have been expanding the borders of Lean thinking both within their organizations and in their wider communities. The power of lean to build world-class performance requires a corporate-wide commitment to long term continuous improvement that very few organizations have made. The Lean CEO explores the state of lean in the world today from the perspective of top executives who are leading the charge, and in the process generates a collection of insights both familiar and new.

The book starts with a cursory overview of Lean but as the author states is no a primer so Lean knowledge is a pre-requisite. The first two chapters set the scene for how lean came to be in the 20th century, and the unusual way in which it was introduced to the West. The author definitively summarizes this history while providing the reader with an introduction in a core set of lean tools, methods and principles.

Stoller then chronicles how 28 CEOs faced crises which led them to adopt the management principles pioneered by Toyota. You will hear from Lean CEOs from companies of all sizes and sectors – including makers of snow blowers, oil field and heating systems, metal tabulators, furniture, windows, healthcare, and so many more. No matter the sector, the requirements of Leaders are so similar because everyone is dealing with people. What we learn is that ultimately, people are the key to the long-term success of any organization.

Chapters 3 through 13 are organized by various themes under the term burning platforms. Lean was adopted in response to a pressing business need. 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.

CEOs, C-level executives, and change agents who led well-known Lean efforts at Wiremold, Lantech, Ariens, ThedaCare, and Virginia Mason among several others are highlighted. 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.

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.

The Lean CEO bridges the gap between Lean and conventional management practices in a way that addresses the specific needs of executives. Out of these interviews come very clear and challenging themes, actions, and common threads. The companies chosen are pioneers of Lean, and have shown outstanding success with hugely increased productivity, profitability, and both product and operational quality. Every one of them focuses on the people and understands customer value.

This is a great book about how it feels to practice Lean for real and a definitely MUST READ for all CEOs, managers, and Lean practitioners.

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