Becoming Lean: Inside Stories of U.S. Manufacturers

Jeffrey K. Liker, editor, Productivity Press, P.O. Box 13390, Portland, OR 97213-0390, 1997, 535 pp., $35. (Book)

Liker has compiled a series of relatively current case histories regarding the implementation of the lean and agile manufacturing process. These case studies cover a broad range of industries and offer an intriguing look into organizational change from various perspectives, such as from CEOs, plant managers, line managers, and industrial consultants.

Lean manufacturing was originally introduced in the Toyota Production System. It focuses on eliminating waste in processes, including the waste of work-in-progress and finished-goods inventories, which are the earmark of mass production. Lean production requires the ability to integrate vision, culture, and strategy to serve the customer with quality, low cost, and speedy delivery times.

While Japanese industry embraced these concepts more than 20 years ago, American industry has been slow to adapt, although during the past decade American manufacturers have made great strides in becoming more focused on lean production principles and the inherent cost savings associated with implementation of this process.

The book provides interesting insight into the various obstacles that have arisen as companies develop new cultures to adapt to lean manufacturing. The concept is not just an introduction of a set of isolated techniques, but a complete business system that involves engineering, marketing, and manufacturing complex products and requires the cooperation of thousands of employees and hundreds of independent organizations. Examples describe in detail the steps taken by pioneering engineering firms at the forefront of this manufacturing revolution.

The text begins with an overview of lean manufacturing, then turns to how the process was integrated into existing manufacturing facilities. Liker ends with a lengthy, but interesting, summary of the ideas brought forth in the earlier sections. The conclusion includes a listing of success factors that can be evaluated to determine if a particular manufacturing operation will be able to permanently implement lean manufacturing concepts.

This book would prove interesting and informative reading to anyone involved in an industrial manufacturing arena, from frontline supervisors to CEOs, and particularly to those individuals involved with manufacturing, not only in the United States but throughout the world. The text is extremely well-written and the case histories flow together as if the entire book were written by one author.

Liker has compiled some very timely articles on the subject of lean manufacturing. They open the reader's eyes to unseen pitfalls in the implementation process and provide practical examples taken from real-life experiences. This book is highly recommended for the industrial professional.


Calling a Halt to Mindless Change: A Plea for Commonsense Management
John Macdonald, AMACOM, 1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019, 1998, 244 pp., $24.95. (Book)

This book sets out to explore the programs and processes recently used to bring about change in business. The initial chapters discuss the many fads and fashionable business trends and the programs and techniques created to rapidly resolve the myriad ills that can plague a company.

The following chapters explore the real character of change and evolution vs. revolution. The book concludes with a review of the simple elements used by businesses to implement change and create successful and long-lasting new practices.

The main difficulty with this book is that it does not contain any information that has not already been said by most mid- to lower-level employees. Another dilemma is the premise that common sense is just that, common. If common sense were common, people wouldn't need to point it out so often. It is hoped that, regardless of this theory, the author still has enough influence on upper-level managers to affect their thoughts and views concerning ways to implement change.

Although the topics are not explored in depth, the information is thorough and cohesive. The author makes his points in a concise and forthright manner, and each section builds logically on the preceding material. A particularly noteworthy section is on the discussion of evolution vs. revolution. A reasonably comprehensive bibliography is provided for further study or reference.

Upper-level management employers who are considering large-scale changes in the workplace should read this book. The author offers several valuable exercises to use before choosing a specific plan to implement change, such as determining the motive for change and defining the expectations surrounding the change, and seeking input from employees.

The book is a good summary of many of the change implementation programs that colleagues and I have endured over the years with various employers. Give this book to your upper-management team before it launches another "program of the month." It could save everyone a lot of heartache.


How Organizations Learn
Anthony J. DiBella and Edwin C. Nevis, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 350 Hanson St., San Francisco, CA 94104, 1998, 216 pp., $32.95. (Book)

This is not a book for the casual reader. However, for the reader who is willing to spend time studying and thinking about the authors' views and theories of organizational learning, it is well worth the effort.

DiBella and Nevis are researchers and practitioners who have extensively studied literature on how organizations learn. They have thoroughly researched seven American and European companies to gain insight into how and why organizations learn and have tested their ideas and materials in more than 25 Fortune 500 companies.

In part one of the book, the authors describe their research and introduce a theory that takes into account three perspectives on learning found in organizational literature. The first perspective, normative, prescribes the conditions under which learning takes place; the second, developmental, looks at the organization's stage of development; and the third, capability, views learning as an ongoing process regardless of conditions or stage of development.

The authors' theory integrates these three perspectives and proposes a framework based on specific practices called Learning Orientations (LOrs) and Facilitating Factors (FFs).

LOrs define the ways learning takes place and the nature of what is learned. The authors propose seven LOrs: knowledge source, content-process focus, knowledge reserve, dissemination mode, learning scope, value-chain focus, and learning focus.

Each LOr represents a continuum between two contrasting approaches. For example, "preference for developing knowledge internally" and "preference for acquiring knowledge developed externally" form the ends of the continuum for knowledge source. A given organization may fall anywhere along this continuum.

FFs are practices that promote organizational learning. The more FFs that are present in an organization, the more opportunity there is for learning. The authors identify 10 FFs: scanning imperative, performance gap, concern for measurement, organizational curiosity, climate of openness, continuous education, operational variety, multiple advocates, involved leadership, and systems perspective. An example of the second FF, performance gap, is shared perception within the organization of the gap between actual and desired performance.

In part two, the authors discuss various issues involved in applying their framework of LOrs and FFs. For example, they discuss forming an organizational learning style, developing an organizational learning strategy, building learning capability, and assessing learning achievements. Part three discusses how this framework can be applied in various industries.

The authors include numerous case studies throughout the book to illustrate the theory of organizational learning and its application. For example, they make frequent references to total quality management and illustrate how it fits into their framework. Because a number of methodologies used in quality management and quality engineering are based in large part on organizational learning, many readers of Quality Progress will find this book interesting and informative.


ISO 9000 Basics
INFORM, 15193 Edgewood Dr., Montclair, VA 22026, 1998, $195. (Video)

Thousands of companies are still looking for an ISO 9000 overview for their basic training and new-hire orientation needs. With its well-edited and direct delivery of information, the video tutorial ISO 9000 Basics meets that need dead-on.

Designed to introduce ISO 9000 concepts, the video presents a simple, straightforward approach to how these standards can increase the overall prosperity of an organization. The information is based on the 1994 version of the standards series and is presented in a manner that should be easily understood by employees at all levels. The support documentation is of decent quality and allows viewers to follow the video's narrative, revisit confusing areas, and take notes.

A key benefit of the video is that it is segmented practically, allowing the facilitator to organize the training as appropriate. The list of ISO 9000 definitions and other included references are accurate and act as strong facilitator tools. Trainers are also given the opportunity to purchase additional handouts from INFORM at a nominal fee.

I thought the length of the tape (nearly 20 minutes) was perfect. The video's overall comprehensiveness, technical accuracy, and visual aids make this the best basic ISO tape I have seen.


Leadership from the Inside Out: Seven Pathways to Mastery
Kevin Cashman, Executive Excellence Publishing, Provo, UT 84604, 1998, 398 pp., $24.95. (Book)

The premise of this book is "growing the person to grow the leader." The author believes leadership comes from within and is an expression of who we are. To support this belief, he defines leadership as "authentic self-expression that creates value." He contends that the element of personal growth is missing from most leadership development programs.

The book addresses the issue of personal growth by taking the reader on "a reflective journey to foster the personal awakening needed to enhance our leadership effectiveness." This approach is different from leadership books that focus on leader traits, behavior, or practices.

The author discusses seven areas that people need to address and master if they are to be effective leaders:

  1. Personal mastery deals with commitment to understanding and expressing ourselves as we really are.
  2. Purpose mastery focuses on understanding and using our gifts and talents to add value to those around us and enrich the world.
  3. Change mastery explores purposeful learning and continual creativity.
  4. Interpersonal mastery deals with interacting with others to develop synergy and create value in group settings.
  5. Being mastery explores using periods of peace and silence to understand the innermost depths of character and being.
  6. Balance mastery deals with understanding and balancing roles in life to build resilience to adversity and attain fulfillment.
  7. Action mastery focuses on applying authentic self-expression to create value in the world.

Each chapter contains questions for reflection on the area of mastery being discussed. The questions are intended to stimulate the reader to pause and think about personal applications of the issues raised. Each chapter also contains points of awareness or principles to practice in mastering a particular area.

The author does not intend for the book to be a quick read. It would take weeks, if not months, to work through the many reflective questions and practice the points of awareness. The author does, however, intend for the book to be used as a workbook. In this vein, he provides ample space throughout the book for readers to jot down notes as they reflect on the material and apply it to self-awareness.

Overall, the book is interesting and thought-provoking. It is obviously directed toward leaders and potential leaders. Since leadership is a major component of total quality management, it would be a good addition to a quality practitioner's library.


NUTS! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success
Kevin and Jackie Freiburg, Broadway Books, New York, NY 10036, 1998, 362 pp., $15. (Book)

NUTS is the term used to describe what Southwest Airlines serves to in-flight customers every year. It is also the term many in the airline industry use to describe the employees and the unconventional management philosophy of Southwest Airlines.

This book is not just a story about another successful entrepreneurship, but rather a story about LUV, Southwest style. It is love, expressed and felt by its people and its management, that has made this company such an amazing success since its inception in 1967, when the Texas Aeronautics Commission approved its application to fly between three cities in Texas: Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Here is an airline with more than 23,000 employees, stock increases of more than 300% since 1990, and the distinction of being the only airline to earn a profit every year since 1973.

The authors began their relationship with Southwest while working on a doctoral dissertation for leadership. They currently serve as consultants. Their book describes a genuine American success story, from the airline's early beginnings and its struggle to get off the ground, to its present position as a major player.

The book is divided into four main parts. Part one, A Legend Takes Off, concentrates on the early years and the battles that Southwest's CEO, Herb Kelleher, encountered when he took on the giants of the airline industry, such as Braniff and Continental.

Part two, Basics Gone Nuts, describes the NUTS philosophy that Southwest employs while sidestepping conventional management tools, such as reengineering and total quality management, in employing its own brand of business policy. Its philosophy includes such advice as:

  • Dare to be disciplined: Have a clearly defined purpose and stick to it.
  • Hire for attitude, train for skill: In 1978, Kelleher gave an edict of hiring people with a sense of humor. He wanted flying to be "a helluva lot of fun."
  • Think small, act fast: Management and personnel at Southwest think and act like a small company, giving employees the latitude, discretion, and authority they need to do their jobs, and they take action fast.
  • Think like an owner: Ownership permeates throughout the company to each individual, which makes every employee a stakeholder.
  • Be creative; color outside the lines: Southwest has chosen to fly in the face of convention and conformity and deliberately hires people who aren't afraid to color outside the lines.

Part three, Doing the Extra Special Exceptionally Well, describes how joining Southwest is more like joining a community or family, with its emphasis on celebrating, making work fun, giving back to the community, and making employees first and customers second.

Part four, The Legend Lives On, explains the type of leadership that shapes the Southwest philosophy through collaborative relationships, shared purpose, vision and values, belief in people, and never taking oneself too seriously.

I'm sure Kelleher would agree that this book is not meant for everyone, but rather for those leaders who have the courage to embrace and employ these fundamental business concepts. For the rest of us--read and dream.


Software Quality
Massive Interactive, Level 2 113-115 Oxford St., Darlinghurst
NSW 2010, Australia, $485. (CD-ROM)

Designed as a tool to help the software industry apply ISO 9001, this CD-ROM would better serve as an ISO introduction for hardware organizations because it is of little or no use to the intended audience of software developers.

The CD-ROM contains a reprint of the Australian version (AUS/NZ) of ISO 9001. While offering some ISO and AUS/NZ guidance, users won't find much information about applying the standard directly to software development. This lack of direction is the largest problem with the CD-ROM. The developers completely missed the opportunity to utilize the ISO 9000-3 standard as an essential component for the application of ISO 9001 to the software industry.

The program also offers references to related standards; however, these references are just that--references. Standards of such organizations as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and Department of Defense should have been included on this CD-ROM because their contents are more useful than some of the video offered.

There is too much in the way of senseless visuals. The video test cases, for example, are vignettes of people simply reading statements into the camera. The information they share is almost worthless in practice.

Some aspects of the product are of decent quality. The CD-ROM's video, audio, and text integrate and work well together. The material offered is a bit dated, but technically accurate, and an outline version of the standard is included with some limited guidance. A 187-question exam is also offered to ensure the user understands the standard. However, no attempt is made to ensure the user knows how to apply the standard to the software industry.

This is supposed to be a guide to the installation of an ISO 9001-compliant software system; however, there is no such guidance. This disk only contains the standard, a checklist, and the likes of video-based speeches. This does not seem to be a guide to integrating a software quality system in any way, shape, or form.


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