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Book Review: Journey to Lean
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Book Review: Journey to Lean by John Drew, Blair McCallum, and Stefan Roggenhofer

Journey to Lean: Making Operational Change Stick

Written by: John Drew, Blair McCallum, and Stefan Roggenhofer. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. 206+xviii pages.
Reviewed by: Donald Reinertsen

Journey to Lean

Journey to Lean is a book about how to achieve and sustain the benefits of lean in manufacturing processes. It was written by three knowledgeable manufacturing experts from McKinsey & Company and takes a broad view of the problem. The book is divided into two related parts. The first part (77 pages) discusses three important facets of lean: the lean operating system, lean management infrastructure, and lean mindsets and behaviors. The second part (about 106 pages) uses the story of the fictional company Arboria to illustrate how a company completes the journey to lean. This expositional structure may appeal both to readers who prefer their management theory blended with fiction and to those who favor the density of nonfictional treatments.

Why should this book interest product developers? First, the value of lean methods is not limited to manufacturing. They are as applicable to the flow of information in development processes as they are to the flow of physical objects on a factory floor. In fact, because lean methods make processes robust with respect to variability, they are extraordinarily relevant to the inherently high variability processes of product development. Second, lean methods represent a fundamental challenge to the current orthodoxy of product development. Today's product development processes look very much like the manufacturing processes of 50 years ago. Much like the centralized planning systems of the old Soviet Union, they stress conformance to plan rather than dynamic decision-making. They preach forecasting rather than reacting; they manage cycle time instead of queues; they reward specialization rather than flexibility; and they are committed to using dysfunctionally large batch sizes. Third, lean methods make money. They simultaneously produce dramatic improvements in efficiency, cycle time, and quality. As a result many senior managers are challenging product developers to apply these methods in product development. Since it is almost inevitable that your boss is going ask you how you plan to apply lean principles in product development, it might be worthwhile to develop an informed point of view before you are confronted with this question.

This book might help you develop such a point of view. It goes beyond a simple description of the technical aspects of lean and stresses the importance of two other dimensions ignored in most discussions of lean: management infrastructure and mindsets or behaviors. It discusses important management infrastructure issues such as role definition, skill development, performance management, and leadership. It stresses that a full implementation of lean will significantly challenge the organizational structures and formal management processes of any organization. In addition, it discusses the importance of changing mindsets and behaviors and shows how the behaviors of middle managers and senior leaders can affect the change process. This is an important dimension of lean because an organization's core beliefs ultimately lead to its dominant behaviors. For example, the book illustrates the key difference between the lean mindset, which values small batch sizes and flexibility, and the traditional approach of seeking economies of scale with large batch sizes. Changing the way people think will change the way they behave.

The fictional section of the book contains an impressive amount of substantive material. Each of the major phases in the journey to lean is discussed. It begins with the need to build a case for change; progresses to assessing the opportunity and engaging leadership; and then proceeds to piloting the change, scaling it up, and sustaining it. It stresses using methodical, fact-based analysis to assess the nature of the opportunity and to sharpen the focus of the effort. This is refreshing because zeal too often overcomes common sense among the proponents of lean. Such zeal can lead to diluting effort over a mixed bag of initiatives, to delaying benefits, and ultimately to losing momentum. This book takes the more rigorous approach of analyzing material and information flows to identify the high payoff opportunities, although it provides the reader with limited guidance on how to do this.

The book also provides important advice on how to engage the leadership team and how to use pilot programs to demonstrate the benefits of lean. In a certain sense, pilot programs simply apply the logic of lean to the change process. They recognize that breaking the change process into smaller batches provides quicker benefits, faster feedback, and less risk. Finally, the book addresses the important challenge of scaling up a pilot program, which is where most change programs break down. It provides good practical advice on issues that frequently trip people up.

As product developers try to apply lean methods in their domain, it is worth recognizing how very fundamental differences between product development and manufacturing govern how these methods can be used. Manufacturing is a sequential, repetitive, bounded activity that adds value to physical objects without taking risks. Product development is a nonsequential, nonrepetitive, unbounded activity that adds value to information by taking risks. Innovation is central to product development, and innovation exposes us to uncertainty in outcomes, which creates variability. The ideal manufacturing process should have no variability. In contrast, a product development process without variability is a product development process without value added.

In general, this is a solid, well-written book that achieves its goals. It provides a readable and accurate description of lean methods, and it makes a contribution to existing literature on the topic. It should provide a good introduction to product developers unfamiliar with lean methods and provides an excellent perspective on the transformation process. It will not provide a deep insight into the operational side of lean, and readers unfamiliar with primary sources on lean may be disappointed by the virtually complete lack of references in this book. Incidentally, a good starting point for such readers desiring an understanding of lean are the classic works by Ohno, (1988), Shingo (1989), and Monden, (1998). This is a surprising omission when the total space devoted to explaining the lean operating system is only 20 pages. However, the book compensates by providing many useful insights in other areas such as the importance of management incentives, organization structures, and the human side of organization transformation. This contrasts with other books that provide more technical detail but shortchange the human side.

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