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A must-read for Lean implementers
on November 19, 2012
While most business books read like a 10-page article diluted over 200+ pages, Art Byrne's, instead, reads like 600-pages condensed to 200. This is the right length to be read by business people on airplanes. A longer book could have given more details, but at the cost of losing the audience. As it is, behind every sentence, you sense that there is personal experience you would like to dig further into.
In the Acknowledgments, Byrne claims not to be a good writer. Either it is false modesty or his editor indeed did a great job. The book has a visible structure, the sequence of topics makes sense, and the sentences are clear and free of jargon.
This book is a must-read because of the author's credentials. Art Byrne has been Theodore Roosevelt's "man in the arena," directly leading A to Z Lean transformations as company CEO. His advice to other CEOs, in the same words, would not carry the same weight if they had been written by anyone without his experience.
The book starts with Art Byrne's personal history, from his first steps at implementing Lean at Danaher, through his experience as CEO of Wiremold, and his work in private equity, using Lean in his firm's portfolio companies.
Byrne devotes several chapters to the strategic nature of Lean, the need for top management to get personally involved, and the differences between Lean leadership and the management style he experienced at the beginning of his career. And this leads into recommendations for CEOs on starting and leading their own Lean transformation, including pointers on compensation policies.
While most other books on Lean stop at the effect it has on delivery, lead time, productivity and quality, Byrne goes one vital step further into the specifics of how Lean enables a company to gain market share, withstand downturns, and accumulate the resources to take over competitors. He describes it in the case of Wiremold in the 1990s, as I have seen it in other companies.
I have a few minor quibbles with the book. The discussion on implementation overemphasizes kaizen events, to the point a reader might assume that it is all there is to Lean. Also, because he is feels that Lean is not limited to manufacturing, whenever he introduces a manufacturing concept, Byrne feels compelled to explain, in parentheses, what the equivalent would be outside of manufacturing, which I find it distracting. Finally, he makes the unusual choice of recommending specific consultants at the end of the book. This not usual in business books, and for good reasons. First, it conflicts with readers' expectations of non-commercialism; second, it will make the many consultants who are not on the list think twice about recommending the book to their clients.
After thinking twice, even though the consultants on Byrne's list by definition can't hold a candle to my colleagues and me, I still recommend his book.