This Is Lean: Resolving the Efficiency Paradox by Niklas Modig & Par Ahlstrom

This is Lean CoverMy first impression after reading this book was that I learned much because it provided a framework for all of the previous books on the subject of Lean. My concern was that people for whom this was their first Lean book that it may not be as useful. That concern was put to rest following work with a Study Action Team using this book as part of their Lean learning. For them the book clearly identified a high level perspective of Lean as an operating strategy focused on improving flow efficiency, and set in proper context the array of Lean tools and practices that may or may not be used to support a Lean operating strategy. So regardless of your prior knowledge about Lean read the book – you will learn a lot.

An extremely valuable contribution in the book is the explanation, both in story form and in model form, of the distinction between resource efficiency and flow efficiency. Enterprise practices often focus on resource efficiency, optimizing pieces, whereas flow efficiency is an optimization of the system of pieces. The paradox succinctly portrayed in This is Lean is that efforts to maximize resource efficiency alone in a system can be self defeating and that organizations have the best opportunities to improve resource efficiency when they focus on flow efficiency first.

Part of the challenge with understanding Lean has been that we are attempting to define an approach to work that is observed as sets of practices that produce superior results in terms of productivity and profitability. It’s easy to get lost in getting rid of the TIMWOOD wastes, understanding our value streams, holding kaizen events, and using the kit of Lean tools people have cleverly developed, especially because we get results when we using these tools. That’s why This is Lean provides a valuable perspective on the world of Lean by defining it at a high level of abstraction that can be applied to any organization. They call this level of abstraction the fruit level, versus the green apple or pear levels that specific Lean tools might occupy.

This is Lean also inspires ideas about whether there is a level more abstract than the fruit level. Is there a food level? One idea is that Lean at this higher level may be an approach, call it a philosophy, of work that integrates three strategies. One is the operational strategy of increasing flow efficiency as Modig and Ahlstrom explain. Another would be an economic strategy that seeks to improve the alignment of benefits enjoyed by enterprise stakeholders. An example of this is the innovation of Integrated Project Delivery. The third strategy would be a cultural strategy that seeks to arrange relationships in an enterprise that shift planning and management to the people directly responsible for value creation. You could argue that these second two strategies support flow efficiency, however flow efficiency can also be viewed as supporting the identified economic and cultural strategies.

If you are at all interested in Lean read This is Lean. It is clear, thought provoking, and makes a valuable contribution to the body of Lean knowledge.


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