Customer Reviews: A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance
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on December 26, 2011
Traditional Work: How you work is probably how you worked.

When I looked at that line in my notebook (after reading Daniel Markowitz's book, A Factory of One) I thought about the busy-ness that many people talk about as they relate to their workday. As you consider what you get done in a typical 8 or 10 or 15-hour shift, do you stop to consider HOW you get that work done?

Over the 145 pages of this well-written - and well-documented - book Dan shows very specific methods you can use to apply "Lean Principles" (traditionally reserved for manufacturing and production lines to remove wasted movements thereby increasing overall productivity) to the "Knowledge Work" that keeps so many of us busy and focused on working overtime.

I was pleased to see Dan write about Parkinson's Law of work: Namely, that the work you have will generally fill the time you have available to do that work. If something is due in a week, it'll take about a week. If it's due later today, well you get the point.

The point of applying Lean Principles to improve personal performance is two-fold:

1. Create a flow of working: so that once you get there, you stay there and produce something (a thought, a product, etc) of value
2. Reduce the stress of wasted movements to focus on more meaningful activity

If you're thinking of getting this book, here's just one of the themes you can expect to explore while you're reading:

Dan asks you to define your "value;" the value of your service or product to the market. Once you've identified that value, then you can work on making things as efficient as possible in order to make that value available to those that matter: clients, community, organization, family, friends, etc. Oh, it might be helpful to know how Dan defines value. I'm walking away with three indicators:

What does the customer pay for?
What are you doing to transform the product or the service?
What activity seems to be done "correctly?"

Of course, you'll walk away from reading this with your own ideas of what "value" means to you, your business, your work. I loved this prompt, though, as it made me think a bit longer about all those "extra to-dos" that have piled up around my own work station lately:

"Should you do better what doesn't deserve doing in the first place?"

Consider what you do, as an entrepreneur, manager, associate of the business you're in. What are the specific activities that you "do" that provide value? The ideas that Dan gives you on (a) how to think about those activities and (b) what to do to make those activities as efficient as possible may be exactly what you need to take not just what you do but HOW you do it to the next level. Imagine being MORE productive without having to buy new technology, hire more staff or change (radically) your business or product.

What WILL you have to change? Your approach to work. To get you think about what that might look, sound and feel like, identify very specifically WHERE your time goes:


Once you identify WHERE your time, energy and focus is "spent" during the day, then it's time to apply Lean Principles to YOUR work. I hope you enjoy reading (and thinking about) this book as much as I did!
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on January 9, 2012
These concepts will be very familiar to people familiar with continuous improvement and more specifically Lean and Six Sigma. However, you do not have to be a practitioner to understand or read the book. When trade terms are used they are explained in simple everyday language without losing a beat. The author demonstrates an in depth knowledge of the Lean Principles. There may be others with his depth of knowledge but I have seen few transfer it into such simple, practical and useable terms. I found myself reading a "how to" book like a novel, reminding myself more than once to bend a corner or mark a page for future reference.

My favorite part of the book was the part on living in your calendar versus your inbox. Quick look at your screen and see what is open! That comment in itself added more than a few minutes to my day of productivity. Another example is his description of a personal A3 for problem solving was absolutely flawless in its description and the use of it.

Are you going to get 2 hours a day of time saving tips from the book? I doubt it. What you will get is more productivity and feeling better about what and how you accomplished it. It was my New Year's Day read and I have picked it up every day since then. Not saying you won't be able to put it down but at this point it looks that way for me.
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on January 2, 2014
Conceptually, the basic premise is interesting and makes sense. Below are some pro/con thoughts to consider.

+ Like I say above, the basic premise you're a mini factory is a good one... what value add do you produce?
+ Good "lean" points e.g., "What separates the lean approach to work is the notion that improvement is part of the daily work..."
+ The example of the artist using Standardized Work is (now) a favorite and I'll use that going forward
+ Good observation that (Western) society rewards rapid answers, not well-thought out ones (not a new concept, but it was a welcomed addition nonetheless)

- I was surprised to see 5S presented ahead of both Visual Management and Standardized Work
- Generally, concepts lead with the tools first, which I think defeats lean as a system that cultivates good thinking
- The A3 thinking method should contain one countermeasure (addressing one problem) only
- In PDCA, it is important to stress that Plan is both noun and verb (and so I'm not fond of the Standardized Work "wedge" and PDCA ball graphic borrowed by the author to show how SW prevents backslide).
- I prefer the term "Standardized Work" over "Standard Work." The "ized" is the active/continuous conversion of customer standards into a routine. The customer sets the standards and these need to be converted into steps. Plus, this looks a lot like "Word Standards" which are devised for accountants.

Bottom line: Good, but note possible cons.
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on March 30, 2013
This book is easy to read yet chock full of great advice from multiple references - mind maps; kanban; kaizen; PDCA; desk, e-document & email management just to name some.

Although I plan to do a few things slightly differently overall this is best single source of information I've come across.

Supplemental thoughts: Was anxious to get initial positive review out quickly. After reviewing the book and actually purchasing another copy for a co-worker - this book is great!!

I'm in an unusual position in that I'm responsible for many clinical research databases in a very research-prolific group in a medical school. I architect & design all, and program & support most. I'm responsible for the data integrity of each and have a lot of follow-up with researchers, statisticians and data entry people. Additionally I'm creating infrastructure policies and procedures for our entire data management operation.

For my specific needs there are far too many tasks and moving pieces to use sticky notes - only do that for collaborative efforts at a high level. For the bulk of my work I use 3x5 index cards in a small case I carry with me (and larger cases on my desk once done). Have divider tabs for the major sections - I've customized the categories and have tweaked them a bit. Since I'm in a lot of meetings, it's easy as I'm given a new task just to write it on a blank card with current date & drop it in Backlog. I endeavor to review backlog at least every other day (sometimes while waiting for a meeting to start). I might have 10+ items between Ready & Today (my own creation of must-do's today), but only move a few to Doing until an emergency comes up. When the task is complete, I'll drop in (waiting for) Retrospective and ultimately to Archive. Sometimes a task is canceled and the card is moved to the Canceled section. In the roughly one month I've been in the office & doing this I've moved over 100 to Retrospective or Archive and about a dozen to Canceled. One of the great benefits of this system is I can review what I've done, when it was assigned and when it was completed. As appropriate I'll put brief notes on the cards.
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on January 23, 2014
This is a great book on efficiency. I read it on a plane coming back from a business conference where one of the speakers was an efficiency expert. When I searched for books on his method, I saw this one, which also discusses principles of the Lean kanban. I found it very useful and well written. (Really well written, as you might expect from an expert who was also an English major!) I came home ready to restructure my office to get the efficiency I had been lacking. I recommend this book.
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"A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance" by Daniel Markovitz is an interesting and new look at an old topic, productivity improvement. I'm not sure there was much "new" here, but rather some solid concepts presented in a different manner. I liked the book, and feel is deserves a place among the productivity and business books that line the shelves.

It's just under 150 pages long, which makes it a quick read. It's well organized and flows from topic to topic, providing solid advice on improving personal performance and productivity through the use of Lean principles originally designed to help Toyota factories outperform their competition. Thus, the title, "A Factory of One."

Using this Lean Thinking model, Markovitz addresses the topics of What's Your Job; Spotting Value, Spotting Waste; Flow; Visual Management; and From Bad to Good, and From Good to Great. All of these are important.

I liked the concept of gemba, in the chapter on defining what your job is. I think it is very important to determine what you should be doing that creates value vs. the incidentals and wasteful things that sometimes occupy our time. This chapter does a good job of getting you to look at that. The chapter on spotting value and waste introduces a 5S model which is okay for looking at how you are doing things. There are many of these kinds of models and this is no better or worse than the others. The key is to actually use a system and prevent your office from looking like the picture of Al Gore's office used in the book for illustrative purposes.

The author uses 4Ds to help process work and make it flow. Again, this will work if you actually use it. I did like the part about multitasking, but again, this is not really new. A number of books these last few years have looked at how inefficient multitasking is, but the other's take on the topic is good and I hope people listen. The chapter on visual management provided some good ideas for making one's tasks easier, more streamlined. This is probably something I had not thought to use outside of places such as the garage, but I see now how the concept and idea can be expanded to other areas.

And of course there is a bit on kaizen, the Japanese term for continuous improvement. Much has been written about this, but the section in this book is well done with some of the basics.

Bottom line, "A Factory of One" is a short, direct, and good book on increasing your personal productivity through the use of Lean principles. If you need a little boost in this area, give it a read and try out the principles. You're bound to increase your personal performance.

Reviewed by Alain Burrese, J.D., author of the "Tough Guy Wisdom" series and others.
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on January 26, 2015
This book is a good contribution to the genre of books on personal productivity and efficiency. What makes it unique is how author Dan Markovitz combines concepts from the "lean" management literature (such as James Womack and Daniel Jones's book Lean Thinking, which Markovitz cites repeatedly, and John Shook's Managing to Learn) with familiar concepts from the personal productivity literature (such as Kerry Gleeson's Personal Efficiency Program and David Allen's Getting Things Done, neither of which I can find cited in Markovitz's book but from which he has apparently borrowed quite a lot). Then there are a few excellent concepts that seem to be Markovitz's own invention, such as "living in the calendar" and "calendar as kanban."

A few reviewers have complained that Markovitz simply repeats what other writers such as Gleeson or Allen have already said, but that complaint overlooks what is unique about this book, namely its combination of two previously separate genres: lean management and personal productivity. Certainly readers who have read other books in either of these two genres will find some familiar concepts in this book, but the way Markovitz combines the two genres is original and not merely derivative.

In particular, what distinguishes this book from productivity books by the likes of Gleeson or Allen is this book's relentless focus on customer value. This book does not preach efficiency for the sake of efficiency or only for your own peace of mind (as valuable as that may be); it preaches efficiency for the sake of your customer or client. Following lean management principles, Markovitz emphasizes that any activity that does not contribute value to your customer is waste, and minimizing that waste is the focus of this book: "First, you must define the value you create--not the work you do, but the value you're actually delivering for your various customers. Then, you need to be able to see the value as well as the waste in your environment. The tool of 5S helps you do this. And it helps you spot the problems while they're still small and inexpensive to fix. Once you've cleared out the waste, how do you produce value in the shortest possible time? This is done by creating flow in your work, so that you're able to do your job most efficiently... Making your work visible helps you allocate your time and attention to the right work at the right time. Finally, with the foundation for excellence laid, you can begin to do the really fun stuff: improving your own work processes..."

I feel compelled to note that this is an introductory book; this book does not cover the more advanced topics in management and systemic thinking that entrepreneurs and leaders need to learn if they are to act most skillfully. But I suspect that if you haven't yet put into practice the basic concepts in this book, skillful execution of the more advanced topics is likely to elude you.
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on June 23, 2013
- Easy, fun and quick read
- Summarises best practices from other time management methods in a cohesive and practical way
- Gives actionable tasks to implement
- Is not as complex as other methods (think: GTD)
- Focus on sound principles, not tactical methods like other systems

Wish it had:
- A summarized chart on how all the elements of the system work together (I'm doing this for myself, because it will make it easier to implement)
- More details and ideas on some concepts - maybe it's not that it's lacking but it leaves you wanting more
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on May 14, 2013
I'm an Air Force certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, but by no means do I know all there is to know about the subject nor do I practice it perfectly in my individual life professionally or at home. This timely book distills Lean thinking into very practical bits of advice to help make you personally more productive and conquer clutter and waste whether in paper or electronic form. I brought this book home to read and digest personally so I can better apply Lean principles at the office. I also am excited to share it with my wife, who is constantly seeking to make our home life with three small children more efficient and harmonious.

The book itself is not only well-written but humorous. The author's dry wit helps punctuate his teaching points and practical examples. It's an easy read for the average non-Lean expert, thus bringing Lean out into less traditional venues.
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on November 13, 2012
I read Factory of One when it first came out and I was intrigued and impressed by it. I decided to try it out. And it works - most of it. I was already accustomed to 5S in the office; maybe not that good at it, but accustomed. The "Spotting the Waste" chapter gave me some useful tips. I started creating an index to the handwritten notebook I use everyday. I moved the current customers and current prospect folders on my PC to the top of my hard drive directory. I subsequently moved them to the cloud so I can access them on iPads and phones. Both these little things have saved me a few minute each day ..... and it all adds up.

Chapter 3 about Flow. I have worked on the 4D (when work comes it, either Do, Delegate, Designate, or Discard). I have not mastered this yet , but it has improved the way I work. Especially with emails. I have now set times each day for emails and do not constantly review them. It was quite freeing to realize that emails are not urgent. I have had success (when I am in the office) with setting aside chunks of time for particular tasks and sticking with it (mostly). I have set up checklists for routine yet troublesome tasks. The most successful for me - a constant traveller - has been a checklist of packing for a trip. Another has been my weekly review of billings.

Visual management has been the most useful thing I learned from the book. I have used visual management for many years in one form or another, and I have worked with many manufacturers helping them to introduce visual management. But I had never thought about applying this to my own work. Typical consultant, some people a saying!! When I was in the office I posted my work visually, but when I am on the road or working with customers I had the old fashioned MS Outlook todo list.

It took me a while to figure it out and I went through several steps to get there. I started with mimicking the board on page 106, but using an 11x17 sheet and small post-it's. I then developed an elaborate mindmap on the iPad. Then I moved to a slim, pocket sized note book with even smaller post-it's. All these worked well because I use the principles; visualize the backlog, limit the WIP, designate times. I expect that I will keep refining this, but I am very happy with the way it works.

I recommend this book highly, because the methods and ideas work and have helped to make me more productive and - more importantly - a little less frantic. Go buy this book.
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