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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Book Review: The Lean Strategy

Lean goes beyond a set of tools to improve your business to change the way we think to unleash innovation, create a competitive advantage, and deliver sustainable growth. Four highly respected figures in the Lean world, Dr. Michael Balle, Daniel T. Jones, Jacques Chaize, and Orest J. Fiume, came together in 2017 to dispel common myths about Lean and explain the strategy. They coauthored The Lean Strategy as a guide for CEOs to develop an approach to deliver enduring customer value that will drive business sustainability for the foreseeable future. 

The Lean Strategy is not groundbreaking or revolutionary as it claims. The authors do not add anything to the idea of lean itself, but do take a stab at promoting its wide application. There is plenty of evidence presented that a lean strategy is beneficial to companies in manufacturing, that much is clear. However, in my mind the authors fail to demonstrate how lean can produce better results for “society at large.”

For me, there a couple key contributions to lean thinking presented in The Lean Strategy:

  1. Different approach to decision-making: the switch from a traditional top-down approach, separating decision-making from implementation

A framework characterized by 4Fs:

Finding the next things the organization needs to do better, facing up to the inadequacies of the current system or the challenges for the future and measuring those and focusing on those and then, framing those challenges for all the teams in the business to come up with proposals for projects to improve them. Finally, out of all of that experimentation, you form new solutions.

  1. Lean is fundamentally about changing leadership habits in both thinking and behavior.
  2. We can’t solve problems by taking out the impacted people. People should be at the center of the solution.
  3. Create a learning organization culture - it's all about gemba, training, teaching, learning, thinking, and practicing.

It is written in a repetitive, inefficient, confusing, and sometimes contradictory manner. In The Lean Strategy, the authors define “strategy” as what “sets the direction for the firm: what distinctive value proposition to the customer will give us a competitive advantage.” However, when reading the book I found two different descriptions of what a lean strategy is. On one hand, the authors have titled the book “The Lean Strategy” and put forward that Lean is a “new business strategy.” Then, several paragraphs later, they also propose that Lean is a way of thinking about strategy: “Lean strategy is about learning to compete.” This is followed by similar arguments elsewhere in the book such that: “Lean presents a fundamentally differ way to think about strategy” and “there is no such thing as a Lean company. There are only companies led by Lean thinkers.” So is Lean is a strategy unto itself, a framework for developing a specific strategy, or both.

Terms like “kaizen” and “gemba,” along with a myriad of alliterated acronyms, are used repeatedly throughout the book. If you’re not familiar with lean lingo, you may find yourself going back to the index. If you are familiar with lean and its history, then The Lean Strategy may be worth a read. The book is a breakdown of how companies over the last 25 years have applied lean to improve their bottom lines by eliminating wasteful processes.

This book can be a resource for leaders at all levels but best suited for anyone who has a desire to approach things in the right way.

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