John Bicheno reviews Chris Cooper’s The Little Book of Lean: The Basics, Simpler, 2011.

This is a short little book of 65 pages aimed, I would say, at the beginner to lean. It can be read in under an hour. Of course, that is not to say that experienced lean practitioners would learn nothing from the book – they certainly would.

The great strengths of this little book are the focus on ‘gemba’, people, and humility. A person new to lean would be reassured by ‘precepts’ such as ‘respect for people, society, and environment’, and ‘gemba wisdom that is valued over theoretical knowledge’.

About half the book is given over to explanations about waste. This is good as an introduction, but a pity about no muri or mura.

The second part of the book is about the 10 elements of flow. The author suggests the following sequence:

  1. 6S
  2. One-item-flow
  3. Right-sized equipment / changeover reduction
  4. Takt – time driven standard work
  5. Work is pulled, not pushed through the system
  6. Visual management and Jidoka thinking
  7. Team and Gemba-based problem solving
  8. Cost management with job security
  9. Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)
  10. Leveling

Each is explained in one or two pages, each with a question or two. Answers are not given, so one has to think (what would be your answer to ‘what law of mass production makes leveling so wrong?’ Presumably it is economy of scale. But then there is a full page of ruled lines to fill in your answer. So what would you write?).

The final section is about ‘culture’. Here, there are six questions:

  1. Are you dissatisfied with the status quo?
  2. Do you have the required humility?
  3. Is respect for people, society and the environment at the top of your agenda?
  4. Do you believe that “Lean will work wherever work is done”?
  5. Will you value Gemba wisdom over theoretical knowledge?
  6. Do you have a leadership that believes these precepts and principles?

Again, short answers are given about each. But, who are they aimed at? A middle manager presumably. Up to this point, I was thinking the book was aimed at the shop floor. And what if the answer to the last question is ‘NO’?

Reservations, if any, would be the following:

  • I am averse to books where people have to fill-in sections. This is seldom done, to judge by quite a few ‘workbooks’ that we have used in the past. But I do like the questions, such as ‘What is the difference between discipline and habit?’ (No answer is given!)
  • The numerous cartoon illustrations do nothing for me, except perhaps enhance the presentation. Little VA!
  • Manufacturing not service. I think to give the impression that the concepts can be easily transferred to service is misleading. Maybe to some transactional services. But beware.
  • A focus almost exclusively on repetitive, assembly-line type work.
  • Maybe it gives the impression of being just too easy. Just get out there and do 5S or kanban…. This can backfire.

In short, a useful little book – and now the best news: It is apparently free from Simpler consulting!