10 Books Every Continuous Improvement Practitioner Should Read in 2012

I hope everyone had a safe and happy new year and that things are off to an awesome start for you and yours!

To help kick off the new year I thought I’d share a list of the 10 books I recommend all Continuous Improvement Practitioners read in 2012.

I’d also love to hear your thoughts on books you recommend.

Finally, if you purchase any of the books below after clicking the links LSS Academy will earn a small commission. This helps us pay for site maintenance and hosting.

1. The Tipping Point

This is, without a doubt, one of my all time favorite books.

And while it may not be on every “book list” for lean and six sigma practitioners… it should be!

You see, in order for any “movement” to take hold you must find a way to get the idea to tip.

This books explains how to make that happen.

Amazon’s Description:

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.

Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate.

This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.

2. Outliers


Again, this isn’t your typical continuous improvement book… but it is a fascinating read on why some people succeed and some people don’t.

I especially loved the part of the book that explains how long it takes for someone to master a skill.

For example, do you know how many times the Beatles struggled before small pub crowds before making it big?  Gladwell tells the whole story.

Amazon’s Description:

In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers”–the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?

His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.

Brilliant and entertaining, Outliers is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate.

3. Understanding Variation

If you work in the field of continuous improvement and haven’t read this book please do! It will change the way you approach attacking problems.

In fact, I will make the bold statement that this is the best book ever written on the topic of attacking variation through the use of control charts.

Buy 10 copies of this book and hand one to every practitioner you know.  They will thank you later.  I guarantee it.

Amazon’s Description:

We live in the Information Age, and much of that information comes to us in the form of numbers. But before numerical information can be useful it must be analyzed, interpreted, and assimilated.

Unfortunately, teaching the techniques for making sense of data has been neglected at all levels of our educational system. As a result, through our culture there is little appreciation of how to effectively use the volumes of data generated by both business and government. This book can remedy that situation.

Readers report that this book as changed both the way they look a data and the very form their monthly reports. It has turned arguments about the numbers into a common understanding of what needs to be done about them.  These techniques and benefits have been thoroughly proven in a wide variety of settings.

Read this book and use the techniques to gain the benefits for your company.

4. Kaizen: The Key To Japan’s Competitive Success

If I was only able to own one lean or kaizen related book this would be my choice.

In fact, my father gave me a copy of this book while I was in college. So, in fact, this was the first lean related book I ever read!

Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success was the first kaizen related book released in the west and will leave an indelible mark on how you think about kaizen in your workplace.

Amazon’s Description:

For the professional manager or student of management, a comprehensive handbook of 16 Kaizen management practices that can be put to work. KAIZEN uses more than 100 examples in action and contains 15 corporate case studies.

5. The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer

The Toyota Way is another must read for all continuous improvement practitioners.

Dr. Liker does a fantastic job of teaching lean concepts while also mixing in stories he learned during his time studying Toyota.

One of my favorite stories is how a Toyota Engineer drove a Sienna all over America in order to better understand how to improve its performance.  Talk about going to gemba!

Amazon’s Description:

In factories around the world, Toyota consistently makes the highest-quality cars with the fewest defects of any competing manufacturer, while using fewer man-hours, less on-hand inventory, and half the floor space of its competitors. The Toyota Way is the first book for a general audience that explains the management principles and business philosophy behind Toyota’s worldwide reputation for quality and reliability.

6. The Toyota Way Fieldbook


The Toyota Way Fieldbook is one of those books you will have highlighter marks and notes written throughout the book.

This book isn’t meant to be read one time… it’s meant to be absorbed and referenced again and again as you make your way through your continuous improvement journey.

Amazon’s Description:

The Toyota Way Fieldbook is a companion to the international bestseller The Toyota Way. The Toyota Way Fieldbook builds on the philosophical aspects of Toyota’s operating systems by detailing the concepts and providing practical examples for application that leaders need to bring Toyota’s success-proven practices to life in any organization. The Toyota Way Fieldbook will help other companies learn from Toyota and develop systems that fit their unique cultures. 

7. Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management


If you ever wanted to go inside the mind of Taiichi Ohno, the chief architect of the Toyota Production System, this is the book for you.

While this is a shorter read than the others recommended in this article it will not leave you disappointed.

This is another book worthy of handing out to every lean and six sigma practitioner in your organization.

Amazon’s Description:

This classic work by the founding father of the Toyota Production System returns to print in a new translation. Ohno delivers timeless lessons on how to effectively manage the gemba actual place or work. He relates stories from across his nearly 40 years of struggle to establish the Toyota Production System as both a mindset and supporting behaviors of constant improvement. In the book s 37 chapters, Ohno covers a broad range of topics and lays out the fundamental philosophy of kaizen (continuous improvement) that has made Toyota the most successful automobile manufacturer today.

8. The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement


Three words best describe this book.  A true masterpiece.

I loved this book so much I not only read it multiple times… I also bought the audio book and listened to it!

In this book the late, and very great, Eli Goldratt takes us all on a fantastic Theory of Constraints (TOC) journey.

Amazon’s Description:

Written in a fast-paced thriller style, The Goal is the gripping novel which is transforming management thinking throughout the Western world. The author has been described by Fortune as a ‘guru to industry’ and by Businessweek as a ‘genius’. It is a book to recommend to your friends in industry – even to your bosses – but not to your competitors. 

Alex Rogo is a harried plant manager working ever more desperately to try and improve performance. His factory is rapidly heading for disaster. So is his marriage. He has ninety days to save his plant – or it will be closed by corporate HQ, with hundreds of job losses. It takes a chance meeting with a colleague from student days – Jonah – to help him break out of conventional ways of thinking to see what needs to be done. 

The story of Alex’s fight to save his plant is more than compulsive reading. It contains a serious message for all managers in industry and explains the ideas which underline the Theory of Constraints (TOC) developed by Eli Goldratt. Eliyahu M. Goldratt is an internationally recognized leader in the development of new business management concepts and systems, and acts as an educator to many of the world’s corporations. The 20th anniversary edition includes a series of detailed case study interviews by David Whitford, Editor at Large, Fortune Small Business, which explore how organizations around the world have been transformed by Eli Goldratt’s ideas.

9. Lean Hospitals: Improving Quality, Patient Safety, and Employee Satisfaction


While this book is definitely slanted towards those who work in the healthcare field there is much to gain for any lean practitioner.

Mark Graban, of Lean Blog fame, has crafted an excellent book that I highly recommend… especially if you work in the lean healthcare niche.

Amazon’s Description:

 Winner of a 2009 Shingo Research and Professional Publication Prize

Drawing on his years of working with hospitals, Mark Graban explains why and how Lean can be used to improve safety, quality, and efficiency in a healthcare setting. After highlighting the benefits of Lean methods for patients, employees, physicians, and the hospital itself, he explains how Lean manufacturing staples such as Value Stream Mapping and process observation can help hospital personnel identify and eliminate waste in their own processes — effectively preventing delays for patients, reducing wasted motion for caregivers, and improving the quality of care.

Additionally, Graban describes how Standardized Work and error-proofing can prevent common hospital errors and details root cause problem-solving and daily improvement processes that can engage all personnel in systemic improvement. A unique guide for healthcare professionals, Lean Hospitals clearly elaborates the steps they can take to begin the proactive process of Lean implementation.

The book has an accompanying website with more information.

Mark Graban was quoted in a July 2010 New York Times article about lean hospitals.

10. Beyond Strategic Vision: Effective Corporate Action With Hoshin Planning

I have read many books on the topic of Hoshin Kanri and, in my humble opinion, this one is by far the best of the bunch.

So, if you’re interested in learning more about Hoshin Kanri, sometimes referred to Policy Deployment, you’ll definitely want to read this one.

Amazon’s Description:

Hoshin is a system which was developed in Japan in the 1960’s, and is a derivative of Management By Objectives (MBO). It is a Management System for determining the appropriate course of action for an organization, and effectively accomplishing the relevant actions and results. Having recognized the power of this system, Beyond Strategic Vision tailors the Hoshin system to fit the culture of North American and European organizations. It is a “how-to” guide to the Hoshin method for executives, managers, and any other professionals who must plan as part of their normal job.


11 Comments

  1. Dale S

    January 12, 2012 - 7:19 am

    I would add “Managing to Learn” by John Shook

  2. Mark Graban

    January 12, 2012 - 8:23 am

    Ron, thanks for including me in your list. There’s a new 2nd edition available now. Links and info are on my book’s site:

    http://www.leanhospitalsbook.com

    I *love* Wheeler’s book, especially, among that great list.

  3. Adi Gaskell

    January 12, 2012 - 8:55 am

    I’ve read 1,2, 4 & 5. Shall have to add the others to my ever expanding Amazon wishlist.

  4. Sameer Goyal

    January 12, 2012 - 2:17 pm

    “Managing to Learn” and “Toyota Kata” are my favorites.

  5. Stephen Turnipseed

    January 13, 2012 - 6:49 am

    While these are some excellent books, the list is a bit heavy on the Lean side. Nothing specifically covering programs, infrastructure, and how Lean and Six Sigma can be melded to produce something more than their parts. I would suggest adding, “Lean Six Sigma” by George.

  6. Jonathan Merrell

    January 13, 2012 - 7:18 pm

    I think you missed the best one here. “the Improvement Guide”, 2nd edition Langly, Moen et al, is must have for improvers! Although it is not just a “read”, more must have read and keep within reach for constant reference.

    • Andy Brophy

      January 14, 2012 - 8:19 am

      The Improvement Guide 2nd edition by Norman et al, should make the list and be a default reference for improvement advisors. The book provides advice to countermeasure many common failure modes encountered during a lean transformation. Dr. Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge is timeless wisdom.

  7. Scott Edwards

    February 1, 2012 - 2:38 pm

    Great list! I have a lot to read, time to get cracking! I too have read the Goal multiple times, hope to read the rest of these a few times as well. And great insight on the Gladwell books. Never really thought of them as continuous improvement related… but you’re right, they are.

  8. Dr. Dan Neundorf

    March 12, 2012 - 5:33 am

    ‘The Tipping Point’ – one of my personal favorites. Thanks for the information.

  9. Art of Supply Chain

    July 27, 2015 - 7:14 am

    These are really good advice here. Thanks for sharing. Lean has a very big part in continues improvement I think.