A history of Lean in 10 books


The term “lean” is thrown around a lot in the software world these days. It's the new agile. In reality, most people don't really understand what is meant by lean, or at least what was meant by the those who pioneered the movement.

It’s easy to hear “lean” and think “less”, presuming that we should stop doing stuff that we don’t like, or that seems hard or old fashioned and get more cool stuff done and do it quicker.

In reality, Lean is a much more nuanced philosophy/methodology that requires a number of supporting philosophies in place to ensure success. At its core is the focus on adding value and the removal of wasteful activities, but over a long term curve and doing it consistently and predictably. That's actually pretty hard. In fact, it’s pretty easy to get it wrong, especially if you don't really understand what “right” looks, or feels, like.

There aren't really a set of rules you follow to guarantee a success. More a set of principles that you need to understand, contemplating how you might apply them to your organisation, slowly and with a keen iterative eye.

The lean movement dovetails with the concept the learning organisation and continual improvement, or Kaizen. It is only with the ability to understand one's current condition, comes the ability to improve it.

Here are 10 books from the Red Badger Library that chart the lean movement from it's very beginning, to analytical studies on it's success, to guides on how to implement Lean within your organisation.

1. Self-Help, by Samuel Smiles

Sakichi Toyoda (1867 - 1930), founder of Toyota, was significantly influenced by this book, first published in England in 1859. It preaches the virtues of industry, thrift, and self-improvement, illustrated with stories of great inventors like James Watt, who helped develop the steam engine.

2. Today and Tomorrow, by Henry Ford

“I, for one, am in awe of Ford's greatness” said Taiichi Ohno (1912 - 1990), who is considered to be the father of the Toyota Production System. When tasked to “catch up with Ford’s productivity”, Ohno studied Ford's 1926 book on his revolutionary approach to manufacturing. Ford's moving assembly line was one of the best examples of continuous flow at that time.

3. The Machine That Changed the World, by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones & Daniel Roos

This book – a five year, $5m study by MIT – was the first real study of Toyota outside of Japan and helped popularised the term "lean production".

4. Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, by James P. Womack & Daniel T. Jones

A follow-up to The Machine That Changed the World, the same authors discuss lean in the wider context, calling for a focus on those activities that create value for the customer and the systematic eradication of everything else.

5. The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World's Greatest Manufacturer, by Jeffrey Liker

When people talk about Kanban and Lean they often refer to Toyota, but how many of really know how deep that link is? This book is the result of a 20 year study of Toyota and their unrelenting drive for continual improvement and removal of waste.

6. The Toyota Way Fieldbook: A Practical Guide for Implementing Toyota's 4Ps, by Jeffrey Liker & David Meier

A companion, hands-on, book to The Toyota Way.

7. Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management, by Masaaki Imai

Masaaki helped popularizing the Kaizen concept in the West, with this being his second book on the subject. Gemba refers to the place where value is created, in other words the shop floor. This book fits right in next to Edward Deming and Crosby books on process and quality.

8. The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt & Jeff Cox

Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt introduces the Theory of Constraints. The Goal was a bible for Jeff Wilke and the team that fixed Amazon's fulfillment network.

9. The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization, by Peter Senge

Named one of the seminal management books of the last 75 years by Harvard Business Review. Peter Senge, a senior lecturer at MIT, draws the blueprint for a learning organisation.

10. The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses, by Eric Ries

And you thought Lean was the latest thing! Eric Ries applies Lean to the startup.