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If done well, I love the novel format. In the case of The Lean Manager , it is hands down the best business novel on lean transformation that has been written yet, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Michael and Freddy did an outstanding job on all accounts providing a strong story with outstanding dialogue and many, many powerful insights into the lean transformation.

I started highlighting and taking notes of many of the best points which ended up being too numerous to list, but I will share just a couple with you. I will not reveal all the golden nuggets found in the book, so you can explore it on your own.


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Once we understand the problem, our mind will follow seamlessly to adopting a solution. Problems have to be solved one at a time. Managers need to remain close to people as they conduct experiments. Managers have to be maniacs about check. Drawing the right conclusions from the experiment is often really tough.

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Each theme is strongly woven into the story line with added company politics, disappointments and frustrations as the fictional plant manager, Andy Ward, struggles to save his plant from pending closure. Although The Lean Manager is an excellent book, there are a few points that I did not like. For starters, it uses the crisis of plant closure to create a sense of urgency and drama to the lean transformation. Why does it always take crisis to drive the motivation for a lean transformation? Where are all of the Phil Jenkinsons in this world!

I have never met a super-CEO like this that is a master coach, long-term thinker, lean knowledgeable, shop floor comfortable, hands-on leader yet keeps his ego in check and lets his people learn by doing. He is as close to perfect as a CEO can get for a lean transformation. This makes a great story and provides an outstanding example, however this character is far from the norm.

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In addition, there was just one mention of using Six Sigma in this story — during a dialogue between Amy Woods consultant and Ward, which is less than positive. In my experience, this is not a true application of Six Sigma. Those few paragraphs could have been eliminated to remove the negative swipe at Six Sigma and the lean transformation message would still remain powerful.

One important point to remember while reading this story is not to turn it into a road map in a lean transformation. Here, the main character, Andy Ward, is a regular plant manager—a cog in a big machine. He's been doing his job well enough, an average performer.

And suddenly, he gets saddled with a new CEO our very own Phil Jenkinson several years down the path who is determined to push lean throughout his company in a way that lean will be sustainable. This is a very different situation. In The Gold Mine , sustainability is not so much an issue, because the leading character has got both the power and the smarts to make things stick once he's got it figured out and has bought into it.

His interactions with the sensei dealt with issues like "Why should I do this? What is the purpose? How does it work in practice? How do I involve my people in it? But once these questions have been answered, the people can move on and tackle a new topic, because, well, the boss is driving the change hands-on.

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In The Lean Manager , our hero has to understand what the principles and tools do; and he has to get his people to do this and stick to it no less. He is in a very different spot. On the one hand he must respond to his overbearing boss, his boss's insufferable sensei, his boss's imposed consultant; and on the other, he must manage his team of department heads who are willing to listen as long as they don't have to change their minds, and he must try to change the culture of an entire plant that doesn't want to hear about any of it. The narrative is no longer about turnaround, as in The Gold Mine , but about transformation.

And so The Lean Manager speaks to a very different, though no less universal, experience among individuals who are making a serious effort to create a lean enterprise, and who find themselves in a similar situation.

A Novel of Lean Transformation

They believe in this lean stuff, their CEO really wants it, but nothing else helps. The lesson Freddy and I learned working with Toyota sensei was that there are certain managerial behaviors required to sustain the lean principles and to change the culture over time. In the first book, this wasn't so much of an issue because, for all his faults, the leading character was bright, interested, open minded, and very persistent. He was willing to learn. The situation in the next book is much tougher.

So the storyline of The Lean Manager progresses along the main lean management values that everyone—starting from the top—has to buy into to make the transformation work. It starts with customer satisfaction as in: We Mean It! Then the book discusses the practice of "Go and see" in its technical details, focusing on kaizen spirit, establishing clear direction, creating and sustaining true teamwork not just getting along, but solving problems across functional barriers , and finally the importance of mutual trust between management and employees and developing respect.

The book also insists on one key point often overlooked in the lean literature: developing people is about making better products or services.

Novel provides powerful insights into lean transformation

Sustainable lean success in any market comes from delivering better products: products that are cheaper to purchase for the value they provide because they are cheaper to make, and products that are cheaper to own in monetary or "annoyance" terms because they are better designed to help you do what you want to do with them. People purchase holes, not drills. Ultimately, and we believe that this is a very topical subject considering the upheavals in the automotive industry, sustainable performance is about delivering better products to customers, because of the better thinking every employee in the company has put in them.

So, The Lean Manager is really about lean management as opposed to lean tools?

Lead with Respect a Novel of Lean Practice

I wouldn't quite say it like this. What matters more: the hammer, or the way to swing it When? In recent years, there have been many back-and-forth debates among lean experts about whether lean is about tools or management. The Lean Manager tries to show that it's about both. Without a good mastery of the tools, you have no basis to start from.

But, then again, without the management attitudes to support the use of the tool in the long run: what is a problem and what is not, what kind of solutions are acceptable and what are not, how to keep people focused on the kaizen spirit day in, day out, etc. The Gold Mine is essentially a discussion about the purpose of the tools, and their interrelationships.

The Lean Manager still has a lot about the tools, but is more focused on the management of the use of the tool. At the end of the day, what Freddy and I have learned the hard way, and why we believe we've been blessed with successful lean progress over the years with real-life companies, is that lean is not applying the tools to every process , but using the tools to develop the kaizen spirit in every employee. Traditional "modern" management practices are all geared towards applying lean tools to every process create a lean office, establish a roadmap, hit every process with a kaizen event focusing on using one tool after the other.

It simply doesn't work with lean because, as we tried to demonstrate in The Gold Mine , lean is a system.

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If you don't treat it as such, you constantly suffer from the rubber-band effect: pull a zone away from the rest through a successful kaizen they almost always are , and a few weeks later it will have been pulled back. In The Lean Manager , we try to give a clear path to how to manage in a way that people acquire the lean tools and improve their own processes. This is not about developing the "best practice" somewhere in the organization and pushing it on everyone else.

This is about getting every employee to perform lean exercises on their own processes, so that they understand their problems, and can go and visit people who have solved similar problems and then try to figure out how to solve their own problems locally. It's about using PDCA as the main management method in the lean enterprise. At the Lean Enterprise Institute, we are in constant contact with both managers who have succeeded with lean transformation and managers who are struggling. Those who have succeeded tend to say lean is incredibly simple. Yet those who struggle have difficulties with the complexities — Does The Lean Manager suggest an answer to this riddle?

That's the funny part of the novel, inasmuch as it is amusing. What you describe explains very well the tension between the main characters. What those who have learned lean in The Gold Mine say always sounds like common sense, simple advice.