Review of Leading with Lean by Philip Holt

By Jon Miller Updated on February 12th, 2017

Leading with Lean: an Experience-based Guide to Lean Transformation, by Philip Holt, aims to provide current or aspiring lean leaders with experience-based insights and steps to ensure that others in the organization are turned on and tuned into the possibilities of lean. The author is the Head of Operational Excellence at Philips, and has over a decade of experience leading lean.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was closely involved in the design and rollout of the lean system at Philips between 2008 and 2014 and thus I am favorably biased.

What this book does well is to give the lean leader tasked with structuring, guiding and supporting a lean transformation a series of questions or conversation starters for the key stakeholders: top management, middle management, workforce, consultants, and the operational excellence team. Even lean leaders well along on the lean journey will find hints to avoid common pitfalls and otherwise make their job easier. I highly recommend the book.

Unlike many lean how-to books, Leading with Lean does not rearrange the known tools in a certain recommended sequence or attempt to recombine them into proprietary acronyms. Instead, the book identifies topics and themes to consider, examples of how to think about them, and opportunities to reflect on how this applies to one’s own organization. The chapters are typically about 10 pages, end in a “hansei” or reflection page where readers are encouraged to stop and reflect on what the themes in the chapter mean to them and how they might put them into action.

The author represents lean leadership as the product of four interlocking spheres: leadership activism, visible leadership, coaching leadership, and mosquito leadership – making lean thinking viral. The book is more about change management and leading throughout a lean transformation than about how to build up a lean management system, as fitting the stated purpose of the book. These topics have been traditionally under-reported, in favor of a rush to the tools, projects and methods that promise to deliver bottom line results. While anchored firmly in these results-giving tools, the book elevates focus on vital processes of how leaders start up and support lean day-to-day.

The reader expecting deep dive explanations on topics such as hoshin kanri, A3 problem solving, kaizen, value stream organizations, kamishibai, genchi genbutsu from the book will be disappointed. The book touches on and provides the context and setting for these methods within lean leadership, but the reader is expected to develop their comfort level with these items elsewhere. The reader unfamiliar with them will hopefully be inspired to study further.

The books is ambitious in its scope, raising as many questions as answered in its 250 pages, shining the light on topics of importance and further exploration by the lean leader committed to long-term transformation.

To download the introductory chapter for free, follow this link.

Where to buy

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