Follow the Learner: The Role of a Leader in Creating a Lean Culture by Dr. Sami Bahri, DDS is the best book on the subject of leadership and lean I have read in a long time. Written as a very personal account of the development of teh Bahri Dental Group into a lean learning organization, the 88 page booklet offers examples, insights and practical advice that applies to the small businessperson as well as large company leader.
In Part I: Creating a Lean Practice, Dr. Bahri shares his story, the 24-year journey of learning which began with the simple thought about his dentistry practice, “I wonder if other people have found a better way to do it?” With the aim of reducing patient waiting time, Dr. Bahri embarked on a personal learning journey, fearlessly tackling lean tools such as takt time, kanban, heijunka, changeover reduction and pioneering their application to dentistry. During this process, he learns as many of us have:
More important than mastering the tools, we were learning how to think as a team about our daily work.
As his understanding of the lean system grew, Dr. Bahri realized that “a dental practice is not unlike a factory” and pursued one-patient flow, as he puts it providing our patients with the correct treatment they need, when they need it, in the right quantity that they need it, while eliminating anything that interrupts or delays this flow. Dr. Bahri credits this focus on one-piece flow as the beginning of real improvement in his business.
The photos and illustrations within Part I of this book are presented neatly, with a summary at chapter end of lean manufacturing concepts and their dental practice equivalents. The first 34 pages of the book by themselves are an excellent introduction to lean. These pages dive right into the thick of Dr. Bahri & team’s lean dental practice but never strays too deeply into jargon to leave the beginner unsure of what they are reading.
In Part II: Leading the Transformation there are several key lessons within its 10 brief pages. Dr. Bahri writes about the importance of establishing the proper mindset, agreeing on base definitions with his team, self-study as a leader to gain sufficiently deep understanding to lead the change, and the importance of a collaborative approach to making change happen. Thinking things through with his staffed helped Dr. Bahri because, “I knew they saw opportunities for improvement in our work that I could not always see.” It takes humility for a leader to ask, truly listen, and then respect the ideas of subordinates. For the leader who is a learner this is easier.
The most important quote in the book for me as I constantly face the doubts and challenges from creative and non-manufacturing people on the applicability of process discipline to their work was when Dr. Bahri wrote:
Implementation essentially means asking your employees to continually change their lives at work, and be happy about it. Lean has given me the practical tool that I needed to keep myself and my staff constantly intellectually stimulated.
In Part III: Discovering the Principles of Lean Leadership spends nearly half of the book sharing his personal learning journey including the people, books and ideas that influenced him. These are all presented concisely enough to invite the reader to further self-study and learning. Worth noting is the space Dr. Bahri commits to describing his personal approach to respect for people and how he puts this into practice.
Early in the book, Dr. Bahri writes:
Selflessly helping each other when needed, in the amount needed, is at the heart of just-in-time.
This small book is packed with value and will surely help the reader in understanding lean, how to communicate it, how to affect change as a leader and how to grow personally through the process. It’s just right.
Follow the Learning is available for purchase from the Lean Enterprise Institute.