Book Review: Lean For Dummies


Review By Dean Bliss (bio below):

Name of the Book: Lean For Dummies

Authors: Natalie J. Sayer and Bruce Williams

Publication date: 2007

Book description: What's the key message?

Lean for Dummies, not unlike others in the “Dummies” series, is intended to introduce the reader to an unfamiliar topic.This book does just that, but also delivers a description of value streams and flow, delves into many of the Lean tools, and spends nearly 100 pages talking about how an organization can set the stage for Lean success through leadership, change management, and employee involvement.So it's not simply a book about tools, or about Toyota, it's a book about how the tools fit in to the philosophy of continuous improvement.

The book begins, well, at the beginning – with a brief history of the Toyota Production System.It goes into how Lean was brought to the United States, the differences between Lean and mass production, the fact that Lean applies not only to manufacturing but to all aspects of the enterprise, and how the culture and the people play a very important role in its success.It also discusses briefly the “continuous improvement cousins” of Lean, including TQM, Six Sigma, TOC, TPM, ISO-9000, and BPM.

The next section goes into some detail about the foundation of Lean (including a tour through the Lean cycle of value, value stream flow, pull, and perfection), as well as an in-depth discussion of flow, value stream mapping, and kaizen.Following that section is a discussion of specific tools, which is broken down into customer and value stream tools, flow and pull tools, perfection tools, and management tools.

The section labeled “The Lean Enterprise” describes the roles of organizational culture, change management, and leadership in making a Lean enterprise successful.It lays out an implementation strategy that includes preparation, rollout, and creating a continuous improvement mindset.Pitfalls and cautions are pointed out along the way.

Also in this section is a discussion of Lean in various functions of the enterprise, including product development, supplier management, production processes, and customer management.In the “Lean across industry” chapter, there are some words about Lean in manufacturing, services, transactions, government, healthcare, and others, though most of these discussions are brief.

The book concludes with “The Part of Tens”, which is a set of top-ten lists – best practices of Lean, pitfalls to avoid, and places to go for help.There's a nice basic glossary of Lean terms in the back, and a comprehensive index.

How does it contribute to the Lean knowledge base?

This is probably the best book I have seen for a Lean beginner.It is written is such a way that someone new to Lean can follow the story without being overwhelmed by terminology.It assumes that the reader has very little knowledge of the subject, and is organized with this assumption in mind.Having said that, though, it goes into enough detail that it can be used as a reference by even an experienced Lean practitioner.

It also has a cardboard tear-out “cheat sheet” that contains the Lean fundamentals, the types of waste, the 5S's, the basic Lean Japanese terms, the definition of “value-added”, the PDCA cycle, and the value stream mapping icons.

What are the highlights?What works?

The best feature in my view is the step-by-step nature of the material.The flow of the book is such that it tells a story of how an organization can approach a Lean journey.It's basic enough for the new user, yet detailed enough for many experienced users.And it spends considerable time on the culture of Lean, rather than simply emphasizing the tools.

The “top ten lists” in the back, though they may seem gimmicky, have some valuable information in them.The “Top Ten Places to Go for Help” section lists books, blogs, online information, consultants, and other resources to help the reader learn more.The “Top Ten Pitfalls to Avoid” is a nice list of things to watch for as a Lean implementation begins.

What are the weaknesses?What's missing?

There are a few errors in the book – the TPS house had “Jidoka” listed twice, and the English translation of “kaizen” was incorrect.Jon Miller did a good job of listing the errors in his review at this link.

This is intended to be a good mid-level book, so as far as details of complex lean tools, such as mixed model scheduling or kanban, they're not here, but there are many other books out there that cover these subjects.

How should I read this to get the most out of it?

The book is written to be read in sequence, particularly for beginners.The concepts build on themselves as the book progresses.Experienced Lean practitioners can certainly reference sections of the book without reading the entire thing, since the terminology and concepts used are the same as other publications on this topic.

Again, for beginners, this is the best book on Lean that I've seen. It's simple enough, yet comprehensive enough, to introduce someone to TPS and Lean, and to help them understand how to begin a Lean journey for themselves.



Dean Bliss is the Director of Lean Improvements for St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Dean is responsible for leading the Lean management process at the hospital and affiliated organizations. He joined St. Luke's in May, 2005, after a 25-year career at Rockwell Collins, an aerospace and communications electronics company.

In addition to his Lean knowledge, Dean gained experience at Rockwell Collins in areas including Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology, and Facilities management.

Dean has a BS degree in Business Administration from Iowa State University. He has spoken at numerous Lean conferences and seminars throughout the country.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Thanks for the review. I have been very interested in learning more about Lean and have been following your blog for a few months now. I was just about to start looking for a good book that covers the basics to get me up to speed on the subject. Sounds like this is just such a book.

  2. I agree about the title, since we don’t like to say “dummy proofing” or to call people dummies in the lean world. But, it’s a good discussion point when you’re giving the book to people, eh?

    Would “Lean for Smart People Working in Bad Systems” be a better title? :-)

  3. I agree on the title. The two book series out there – the “for Dummies” series and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to” series – are very good, and have great information. But I’m not too crazy about being called a dummy or an idiot. Reminds me of the problem we sometimes have with the word “lean”. Sometimes the word gets in the way of the message.

  4. My goodness, leave your ego at the door. It’s just a title. The reason it’s a popular series is that on the topic in question, the reader knows they are a dummy and are freely admitting it. Let it go.


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