Two Approaches to Explaining Lean Thinking

We lean devotees have often said that lean is not just a set of tools, but a way of thinking about your business. Two of our most recent books reflect this fact.

The A3 report is a well-known lean tool. It refers to a report that summarizes the steps in identifying and solving a problem. Everything in the report appears on one page, and the name “A3” refers to the size of the paper used.

One of our newest books is Understanding A3 Thinking: A Critical Component of Toyota’s PDCA Management System, by Durward Sobek and Art Smalley. Note the word “thinking” in the title. The book is not just about how you create an A3 report; it describes in detail the learning and development that occur from the process leading to development and management of the reports. Ultimately, that can be more important than the report itself.

You might say that Sobek and Smalley discuss lean thinking with a kind of “bottom-up” approach, starting with a tool and moving into a broader explanation of the processes behind it.

If that is true, then you might also say that Raymond Floyd provides something of a “top-down” explanation of lean thinking. His new book is A Culture of Rapid Improvement: Creating and Sustaining an Engaged Workforce. Or if not top-down, then perhaps more macro than micro.

Floyd understands how critical culture is to lean transformation. The sections of his book explore establishing cultural values and beliefs; engaging people in the culture; the social design of the culture; managing and sustaining cultural change, and how to get started in your organization.

Not only are these kinds of issues important, but there seems to be a real hunger in the marketplace for information about them. In the three years since we first published Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions by David Mann, that book has consistently been one of our best-sellers.

Does lean thinking exist in your organization? How challenging has it been to transform your culture so that your workforce is truly engaged in a lean approach?