Joseph Paris reviews Jim Bowie’s Lean Acres, Quality Press

The biggest challenge faced by continuous improvement initiatives, and the reason they consistently fail to realise their potential, is that the understanding of what it’s all about and what is expected never reaches the extremes of an organisation, namely leadership and the shop floor.

This is why I am always on the lookout for a good book that can “snap into focus” the mission, messaging, and value-proposition of CI initiatives to those who are not, themselves, continuous improvement professionals. And this is precisely why I am so happy to have found Jim’s book. I believe you will be too.

Lean Acres is written as fiction; and I guess it is since it does not speak of specific “case studies”. Refreshingly, the setting is a farm and not a bicycle manufacturer. However, and unlike traditional fiction, the characters in the book do not have names such as “Ebenezer Scrooge”, but are merely referred to by what they are, the characteristics they possess, and the roles they play. The author assumes the role of narrator and then proceeds to introduce the others on the farm; starting with the Farmer himself (the CEO), and then the Dog, the Bull, the Sheep, etc – until we get to the Mice (those omnipresent busybodies who live in the shadows). If Deming had written Animal Farm instead of Orwell, it would have come out like Lean Acres.

The author takes many of the routine tasks on a farm to which everyone can relate regardless of their industry (such as supplying, working, production, etc…) and weaves the principles and methodologies of continuous improvement programmes and the lean six sigma tool-set throughout. But unlike many books on the subject which concentrate on the tools Book review and their use, the author spends a great deal of time discussing the diverse perspectives of the lives and its priorities as seen from the various characters.

And this is perhaps one of greatest lessons in the book; the author realises that a farm, like a company, consists of a wide variety of personalities – each with different sources of motivation, but each necessary for the success of the farm. He effectively conveys the importance of empathy in an organisation and in seeking where mutual interests and interdependencies might be found so that team-building might occur.

Some of the specific take-aways from reading Lean Acres include:

  • Being entertained while learning. Who says learning can’t be fun, especially for those who will be touched by a CI programme, when it is not where their native talent might be?
  • Fantastic fable to help educate and align any organisation through a strategic deployment;
  • Dynamic cast of talking animals representing the personalities that exist in every organisation and that everyone will be able to recognise – and how effective teams might be built from seemingly incompatible participants with diverse personal interests;
  • Step-by-step instruction on the application and value of each of the lean six sigma tools in the Continuous Improvement Toolbox.

I think Lean Acres should be a must-read for every first-year student of industrial and systems engineering and given by every continuous improvement leader to those who are about to be influenced by the programme – so that they can rapidly get “on-board” and know the nature and value of the journey of which they are going to be a part.

And as is on the farm, so is in real life – beware the jackass, or you may find yourself in the “Boo-Chair”.