Professor Zoe Radnor reviews This is Lean: Resolving the Efficiency Paradox, by Niklas Modig and Par Ahlstrom, Rheologica Publishing

This is Lean reads like a good novel. It captures you from the first paragraph (the cancer cases), draws you into the characters (the great concept flow efficiency) and unveils the plot and detail slowly (the laws and theories), before giving away the importance of relationships (creating and developing lean organisations) and making you feel that all will live happily ever after (just embracing with lean). The examples and explanations are first class and, having researched and applied lean myself within Public Services, I can say this book crosses the boundaries in a seamless and relevant manner through focusing on the concepts of efficiency and variation.

Rather than concentrating on the classic five principles or the “time compression” element of lean, This is Lean considers processes in terms of resource and flow efficiency. It argues that most organisations focus on resource efficiency and so are capacity-led rather than focusing on flow efficiency so becoming demand-led.

Demand-led organisations can focus on flow through understanding and defining customers’ value and need – where need is relevant when it is difficult for the customer to define value. Niklas and Par say that organisations should aim to achieve highly on both resource and flow efficiency.  The book unpacks processes to consider some key laws (Little’s law, bottlenecks and variation), which prevent organisations from having efficient flows.

In the words of the authors, “the three laws help us understand what causes low flow efficiency: number of flow units in process, cycle time, bottlenecks, variation and resource efficiency” (page 45).

This is Lean then outlines the history of the Toyota Production System and the birth of what the West called “lean” before returning to the concept of “efficiency” through the presentation of a key concept “the efficiency matrix” (see chapter 8). The efficiency matrix is represented as a 2×2 matrix of low and high resource efficiency versus flow efficiency with each quadrant being a different operational state. Concepts of variation and operations strategy are then nicely brought in to understand how the matrix can be applied within organisations with the aim to show how lean can be used as a strategy to reach the “perfect state” (page 100).

The remainder of the book is about realising lean as an operations strategy in order to achieve the objective to “prioritise high flow efficiency over resource efficiency… by eliminating, reducing, and managing variation… to increase both flow efficiency and resource efficiency” (page 127).

This is Lean has been widely reviewed by both academics and practitioners including Professor Takahiro Fujimoto (probably the world’s leading authority on the Toyota Production System). The feedback is consistent in that it is insightful, concise, easy and fun to read, and in that it helps understand the essence of the lean management philosophy. Overall, I feel it is a worthwhile read for the lean beginner and expert alike: as with every good book or novel, you learn something new every time you read it!