Lean for People of Average Intelligence

When do you know a management concept has hit the mainstream? Like a bug to a windshield, “Lean” as a management approach has now hit bookshelves in the form of Lean for Dummies. It set me off on a minor rant in the office when I learned about this today.
The title is unfortunate. I realize it is a successful franchise, and the format itself of the “dummies” books is very good. Can Lean be summarized successfully in 362 pages? We shall see. Kudos to them if they do it.
On the other hand, if your organization is led by, or filled with people who see themselves as “dummies” attempting to discover how to:
* Understand Lean and how it’s implemented
* Speak the language of Lean
* Identify and eliminate the seven forms of waste
* Construct and use Value Stream Maps and other Lean tools
* Engage people in a Lean transformation

by reading a book that explains it all in 1-page and 2-page snippets, you will fail. Context is key. One of the 10 pitfalls listed in the table of contents of this book is the “Quick Fix” and there is a danger of this if the subject matter is not respected and instead dumbed-down.
There is a quote about Toyota building brilliant processes that average people can perform flawlessly. The quote does not say they are building processes for dummies. That would not be respectful to people to begin with, and most likely not practical since just like there is no limit to people’s ability to think, there no limit in the other direction as well.
Art Smalley who is a former Toyota manager, and a highly reputable source on how Lean should be implemented, has written about creating basic stability as a precondition for TPS implementation. It’s a simple idea, but in hindsight many of Gemba’s failed Lean projects (whether they be internal projects or with clients) resulted from some basic lack of stability in the human, material, machine or method conditions. I would suggest that stability in the areas of management ability, respect for people and average or better intelligence are also preconditions to a Lean transformation.
That said, I bought the book today for research purposes. We may even recommend it in spite of the unfortunate title. The book is billed as a fun and simple guide to improving performance and profits for your business. Hey, I’d be a dummy if I didn’t get me some of that.

8 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    March 14, 2007 - 4:05 am

    Lighten up. Everyone who has had a “xxx For Dummies” book published on a topic on which they were passionate has the same reaction. I think it’s great that Lean has made it this far into the mainstream. Lean can’t be limited just to the senseis, gurus, and True Believers. Maybe the book will be read by someone with no knowledge of Lean and inspire them to look further.

  2. Jon Miller

    March 14, 2007 - 7:56 am

    Point taken. It is a “reference for the rest of us” which is a positive and inclusive thing.

  3. Mark Graban

    March 14, 2007 - 3:04 pm

    I got my copy today. Although I cringe at the “…for Dummies”, due to past wounds (or wounds I’ve seen inflicted on others), I’ll give the book a chance.
    Jon, your blog is listed (along with mine and a few others you would recognize) in the back of the book in a list of lean resources.

  4. Kent blumberg

    March 15, 2007 - 9:07 am

    I agree with the comment to “lighten up.”
    I read several lean blogs, and all of you have been complaining this week about this book. If it helps more people understand and work with lean principles and tools, who cares what the book is called?
    When I am learning a new subject, I often turn first to a Dummies book. Horrible title, but these books work. For deep understanding, a Dummies book isn’t enough, but it is often a helpful start.
    I don’t think it will hurt lean at all to be demystified a bit. Broad acceptance and integration of lean into our daily world won’t happen until we get past mysterious Japanese words and into the clear light of the plain and simple. The more accessible it is, the more folks will “get it” and attempt to make something good happen.

  5. Jon Miller

    March 15, 2007 - 1:43 pm

    We all want more people to understand Lean. We complain because we care, I suppose. Whether book titles or Lean concepts, what you call things is important.
    We should not leave behind the Japanese words to talk about Lean, just because they are not English words. Sometimes the best term for something is the original.
    Japanese people do not complain about the amount of English loan words they use in business, engineering, entertainment and information technology fields.
    The simplest way to say “genchi genbutsu” in English is genchi genbutsu. It’s a new English phrase.

  6. Sue Hammond

    March 16, 2007 - 10:09 pm

    Have you read the book? I have, and as a small business owner am excited about how I can apply some the concepts.
    You are right there is no depth to people’s ability to think – Lean for Dummies has given me a new way to look at my business processes.
    Sue Hammond

  7. Jon Miller

    March 17, 2007 - 2:17 pm

    Hi Sue.
    I just finished reading Lean for Dummies.
    I am sure Lean for Dummies will open the eyes of many more people to the waste that is all around them.

  8. Steve

    March 18, 2007 - 10:54 am

    Hi Jon,
    I’m a big fan of your weblog and its message. As one who began my “quality” career with Tom Peters, Phil Crosby and W. Edwards Deming, I’m interested in what you might recommend as a starting point for “lean” or “TPS.” If not Lean for Dummies are there other entry points that you believe are better? Thanks.
    P.S. Forrest Breyfogle’s 1200+ page Implementing Six Sigma is full of typos and errors even in its second edition. In another era Tom Peters asked, “If the ashtrays on the plane are dirty, what should we assume about the engine maintenance?”