Book Review: The Ice Cream Maker

The Ice Cream Maker: An Inspiring Tale About Making Quality The Key Ingredient in Everything You Do

I was reading the WSJ a while back and was intrigued by a book recommendation by Chrysler’s Robert Nardelli (you can read that article here, a PDF).

They [Chrysler] also saw a tendency for the company to use the cheapest parts available, even if that compromised quality. In an effort to turn the situation around, people familiar with the matter said, Mr. Nardelli had dozens of top Chrysler executives read “The Ice Cream Maker,” a book by quality consultant Subir Chowdhury.

I couldn’t believe it. Nardelli, who has the reputation of being an imperial, top-down leader, the man who is blamed for killing morale and customer service at Home Depot through his Six Sigma tyranny…. he’s recommending a book about quality, service, and employee engagement.

Either this book can’t be any good, or Nardelli has had a major awakening and change of heart as a manager.

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The only thing I could confirm first hand was if the book was any good…. so I bought and I read. And, I have to say, I *loved* this book.

The Ice Cream Maker is a quick read, at just over 100 small pages. It’s the type of book you can read in a single flight (or a single runway delay). It’s a business novel. I know, you might groan at that tired genre (thank you, The Goal), but it’s amazingly short on melodrama and “failing marriages subplots” (again, thank you, The Goal).

Long story short — the tale is about a plant manager who runs an ice cream factory. Business is not exactly booming and he’s trying to help get their product carried by a gourmet grocery chain that’s very clearly patterned after Whole Foods. When he goes to pitch his product, he runs into an old friend who is a store manager at Whole Foods. And hence the business education begins.

Lessons learned include:

  • Quality is defined by the customer
  • The surest path to improved quality is getting your front-line employees involved
  • Take care of the employees and they’ll do the right things for your customers

Some of the lessons are a bit heavy handed and the book is pretty pollyanna-ish in the way the improvements at the ice cream factory are all just automatically bought into by the staff. A longer and more complex story would have covered some of the more delicate change management issues that are inevitable even when it’s clear that change is needed. That’s my only criticism of the book — it really is a good read.

While the book isn’t about “Lean” per se, the author, Subir Chowdhury, is a famed quality and Six Sigma expert. I would highly recommend this book as a companion to more technical books about Lean implementations. I shared this book with Norman Bodek, since much of the message is right in line with his “Quick and Easy Kaizen” approach of employee engagement improvement (and Norman liked it very much).

There are some pages that I dog-eared for reference and for pointing out here:

Pg 30 — the grocery store manager says, “We have over two hundred team members in this store alone. There is simply no way I could play policeman for every worker if they’re determined to undermine the business. Instead, we utilize a friendly form of peer pressure to get everyone going in the same direction.”

Pg 39 — the ice cream manager says, “Like a lot of managers… I blamed my company’s lack of focus on quality on the workforce or our aging equipment. But, quality, I realized, starts with strong leadership. It starts with me listening more closely to our workers, and to our customers.”

Pg 52 — there’s a great story here about an airline flight attendent blindly following policy and not getting a drink of water, before a flight, for an old man in the front of coach because water was for “first class only.” It’s a great example of making sure that people aren’t hampered by policy — they need to be engaged to use their brains and to do the right thing for customers.”

Pg 60 — talking about innovation and how the ice cream company doesn’t have a Steve Jobs, the grocery manager says, “We don’t need a Steve Jobs. We need clerks and stock boys and department heads with their eyes open and their brains working.”

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Pg 68 — “If you want their input, there are no dumb ideas…. the key is to create an environment that doesn’t penalize creativity, but rewards it.”

Pg 70 (reminscent of Toyota and andon) — the grocery manager explains, “The team members who work in our bakery have the authority to stop the production line at any time if they see something amiss….”

Ok, there are many more tabbed pages, but I don’t want to be a huge copyright infringer. I hope I’ve included enough to whet your appetite for a book about ice cream (pun intended).

You can use this link to buy it. It’s only $12, check it out:

The Ice Cream Maker: An Inspiring Tale About Making Quality The Key Ingredient in Everything You Do

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an book titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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1 Comment

  1. Book Review – The Myth of Multitasking | Lean Blog

    […] First off, this is written as a business novel. Lately, I have been really weary about business novels. For one, I’m not a novel reader and, since The Goal, the only business novels I’ve liked and gotten through are SHORT ones, including All I Need to Know About Manufacturing I Learned in Joe’s Garage: World Class Manufacturing Made Simple and The Ice Cream Maker: An Inspiring Tale About Making Quality The Key Ingredient in Everything You Do (see my review here). […]

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