more lean books

Many thanks to everyone who emailed me with details of books I missed from my lean manufacturing reading list. To pick out just a couple:

“The best source on ‘lean’ (in the broad sense) for product / software development is Reinertsen’s Managing the Design Factory. It’s fantastic. Lot of Mary and Tom’s stuff is from it.” — Clarke Ching

Thinking Beyond Lean is about the product development model of car manufacturers and how Toyota completely overhauled their product development process, at a time when some of their competitors were starting to copy Toyota’s process. See here for a first stab at mapping the ideas in the book to agile software development.” — Pascal van Cauwenberghe

Any others you can recommend?

lean manufacturing reading list

David Carlton emailed me to ask:

“I’d been thinking that I should read more about lean manufacturing; what are your favorite books on the topic? And am I correct in assuming that the Poppendieck book is where to start for lean software development?”

Lean manufacturing is indeed a fascinating topic, particularly in the week that Ford in the US seems to have completely failed to understand it…

I guess I began by going to the horse’s mouth to read Taichi Ohno’s Toyota Production System. After that there’s a wealth of material out there. Many of the most approachable are those written by Westerners for Westerners: such as The Machine that Changed the World or Lean Thinking by Womack & Jones, or Liker’s The Toyota Way. Others are more specialised, such as Imai’s Gemba Kaizen.

Lean manufacturing concepts – such as pull, jidoka, gemba etc – can be applied to software development with positive effect (see Lean Software Development by the Poppendiecks). However, beware of drawing parallels between software development and manufacturing. In a software production business, the “manufacturing” step is largely about packaging and burning CDs etc, whereas software development itself is what folks in hard engineering call “Product Development” or “Engineering”. Toyota’s approach to product development is often termed Knowledge Management or the Learning Organisation, and their performance there is perhaps even more startling than it is in manufacturing. Yet there’s little approachable material available. I began with Kennedy’s Product Development for the Lean Enterprise.

There is a growing body of information available about knowledge management and learning organisations – I’m currently working my way through Takeuchi & Nonaka’s Hitotsubashi on Knowledge Management. However, with the exception of influences in the Poppendiecks’ book I know of very little material mapping these concepts directly onto software development.

(Inevitably my reading has been patchy and is woefully incomplete. So please let me know if you’ve read books I’ve missed here – particularly any that deal more explicitly with mapping software development to knowledge management and learning organisations.)

kaizen considered harmful

Hal Macomber points out a rant from Tom Peters, in which Tom tries to claim that kaizen is “dangerous”. His reasoning is that continuous gradual improvement can get in the way of spotting the “next big thing”, and that gradual change isn’t enough in the modern world of short development cycles and rapid obsolescence.

I think Tom has confounded two different business cycles in his quest for a soundbite. As Hal notes, Toyota were able to introduce the new Matrix in one year from concept to customer – precisely because of their continued pursuit of perfection! Without a mature kaizen process Toyota could not have honed their product development process to the point that they could undercut the other manufacturers’ cycle times by upto two years. By even conceiving of the Matrix, Toyota showed that they can innovate; but by getting it into the marketplace in a year, they showed that they have a world-class development process. These are two different things, and it was kaizen that made the second one a reality. Without years of kaizen, the Matrix innovation would have been devalued by a long time-to-market delay.

In my opinion, kaizen frees the hands of the innovator. And to think that sloppy processes can support rapid innovation is dangerous advice, Tom.

Update, 4-jan-07
Hear Mark Perry read out sections of this post by listening to the first couple of minutes of podcast #60 of his “PMO Podcasts for Executives and Managers”. Thanks for the mention Mark!