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The Three Lean Books a New Shop Floor Manager MUST Own

I thought I’d try a little exercise. I wanted to see how easy it would be for me to make a short Lean library starter list for new shop floor managers in a Lean company. There’s a lot of great Lean books out there, so the task proved harder than I anticipated.

Initially, I thought Lean Thinking would make the list. It is one of the most widely known and read Lean books. While it is truly valuable to read it, in terms of bang for the buck of a leader in a company that has already decided to be Lean, the book holds less value. It isn’t as much of a ‘how to’ guide as it is a ‘why to’ guide.

I thought Learning to See would make the list. It teaches a great tool (and way of thinking) to know, but in the end, it is only one tool. If the list is only for three books, I’d rather suggest one that is a little broader.

The Goal was another book that popped into mind. It is an easy read, and it’s entertaining. In the same vein, The Gold Mine also uses a novel approach of teaching Lean in a story format. Neither, though, is a book that you can go back to and get more out of on a second or third or fourth read. I’d still recommend reading both. I just seldom find myself leafing through them or reading them again like I do with the ones that made my list.

So, without further ado, here’s my distilled list. (Cue drum roll, please…)

  • Whaddaya Mean I Gotta Be Lean? Building the bridge from job satisfaction to corporate profit by Jeff Hajek. I mean, really. How could I not put my own book at the top of the list? So why would I put it here? Because it focuses on a lot of the problems a new Lean manager might encounter in a Lean leadership role, and gives advice on how to deal with those problems.
  • Toyota Production System: Beyond large-Scale Production by Taiichi Ohno. Toyota’s recent recall woes notwithstanding, the system works. In truth, it has evolved, and parts of it are used in all major automotive manufacturers. Understanding the origin of modern Lean helps practitioners use it better. Plus, the book was written before the advent of a lot of gimmicky software and systems, so it focuses on the core principles.
  • The Sayings of Shigeo Shingo: Key Strategies for Plant Improvement by Shigeo Shingo. This book is really just a series of short articles, so it is easy to digest in small portions. Again, it was written before a lot of modern technology, so it focuses on solving underlying problems, not on finding catalog solutions.

Now, I know that a third of my choices (my book) probably won’t make a lot of your lists, as it is not as mainstream as many others, but I’d love to hear what you think of my other choices. Actually, what I would really love to hear would be the three books you’d recommend (and why) in the comments section. Who knows? Maybe you’ll convince me to change at least two of my choices.


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