The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on September 6, 2008 · 3 comments

Author: Jamie Flinchbaugh, Andy Carlino

Publication Date: 2006

Book Description: What’s the key message?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean: Lessons from the Road does not center on one primary message. If you had to choose one, however, it would probably be that lean is about more than tools and process changes, but is also about thinking, culture, leadership and other aspects. The bulk of this book focuses on the aspects of lean that are less apparent or key enablers of lean that are not given proper attention. Most of the book focuses on the first five chapters. Each chapter has five key points, which makes recall of the content easier.

  • The first chapter focuses on lean principles, and this theme is recalled several places throughout the book. The point is made that having a common set of principles is key to successful and sustainable lean transformation and the authors articulate 5 key lean principles in detail.
  • The second chapter centers on leadership, which it defines as moving toward an ideal state. It focuses on five specific “moves” that a leader must master in the pursuit of lean.
  • The third chapter covers pitfalls, or mistakes, companies make in their lean transformation strategies. An example of these pitfalls is not to let the Lean Promotion Office lead your lean efforts in abstention of line management. This chapter covers five pitfalls and also provides specific tactics to overcome or avoid them.
  • The fourth chapter describes the lean transformation roadmap. The chapter makes the point strongly that there is not a single path for every company to follow; what works for one company might be a complete mismatch for another. This chapter starts the lean journey before you actually begin with what is called Phase Zero, or Exploration. It describes what you have to do and pay attention to while you’re discussing and deciding about a lean commitment. This is a time period that is rarely discussed but is very real. From that point there are four more phases discussed which draw distinctions between companies that make lean work but it is still an additional thing and companies that make lean just a part of who they are.
  • The fifth chapter discusses the concept of an Operating System. This concept is not for every company. The phrase is thrown about corporate offices often. It is a lot more than just a piece of paper the authors point out. This chapter outlines 5 elements to building an Operating System. The center piece is thinking or principles, which relates strongly to chapter 1 of this book. The next elements that are built around that thinking are the processes or systems, the tools or skills, and the evaluation means including metrics. The final element, and perhaps the most important, is consistency, meaning how consistent those elements are to one another will determine the operating system effectiveness.
  • Other chapters focus on very specific elements of lean including a chapter on lean accounting, lean in service organizations, lean material management and a chapter on personal lean. The chapter on personal lean is an interesting challenge and is a chapter we would like to see more on.
  • The book wraps up with interviews with 5 lean leaders, including one CEO and 3 very senior leaders. If you like learning from others, consider starting with this chapter.

Of course we all have our experiences with various budgeting processes, and probably most of these experiences have not been positive. A Bob Lutz quote, “Budgeting is a tool of repression, not innovation,” probably captures the central theme best.

How does it contribute ot the lean knowledge base?

This book is important because it covers many questions or issues that people say “this is what prevents me from further progress.” Lean practitioners complain that people don’t get it, we have to build a culture, or we lack leadership. This book directly addresses those issues. This book does not look back at uncovering new understanding from Toyota or Taiichi Ohno or Henry Ford. It instead is focused on the practical issues of implementation and progress. If you drew a pareto chart of what prevents you from achieving lean success, this book addresses many of the topics that would be high on that pareto chart.

What are the highlights? What works?

There are three specific strengths of this book that we would like to point out. The first strength is the content meaning that the content is not found many other places and make the book a good “in addition to” on your reading list. The second strength is its readability. As other reviews have pointed out, you feel as if the authors are speaking to you. It is informal and conversational. The third strength is that each chapter is captured in 5 key points. This makes sharing the ideas, or remembering the ideas, in the book very doable.

What are the weaknesses? What’s missing?

The primary weakness of this book is that it doesn’t stand alone. You can not give this book to someone who has absolutely no idea what lean is about. They will get the most out of it if they have some exposure whether through benchmarking, reading or direct experience. While we don’t think anyone should read only one book, if you were to read only one lean book, this couldn’t be the one. Also, because this book covers a lot of ground, you can not boil the book down to a few key themes, other than the first theme that lean is about thinking.

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

Read, discuss and then ask “what should we do differently based on what we just read?” The book lays out several challenges to individuals, companies and leaders, and those challenges are best if acted upon. It is an easy read, suitable for an airplane or nightstand. If you read it too quickly, however, you may not absorb the many points made throughout the book. Keep a journal with you as you read it.

1 Alan Shalloway November 1, 2009 at 10:32 am

I consider myself to be very knowledgeable in lean already, actively consulting in it in the software industry. I read this book mostly because it was recommended and I liked the thoughts I’d been hearing from Jaimie on twitter (@flinchbaugh). I found it to be interesting to read and have lots of nuggets of insight. However, the reason I recommend it, is that it has the, hard to say this accurately, “being-ness” of being lean. By this, I mean that it captures the true essence of what lean is. Lean is not a set of tools (although it has tools), it is not just a set of perspectives or thought processes, although it has them. It is more about an approach to life and work. But it is not even just that attitude. It is about how one collectively takes one’s knowledge and viewpoints and rolls them all together to be effective.

Yes, I know I’m talking a little zenish here. 🙂 But lean is like that (or should be when understood). But this isn’t just a ‘zen of lean’ which might leave one looking for more tangible information. It includes this quality while giving tangible information. This is what makes this a great book. For example, the 7 wastes – a couple of quotes. “when talking about problems or opportunities, do you apply th elens of waste every time?” and “The seven wastes are not to be used as an academic exercise to see how organizations can categorize things. They comprise a specific lens companies should use every day.” Now I’ve known the 7 wastes for years. And I’ve found them to be useful. And I’ve even done what Jaimie suggests. But I’ve never used the metaphor lens before, although it is spot on. He talks about using them as a lens to see our process. It’s not just about eliminating the waste, it’s about improving the process by eliminating the waste. Doh! I knew that, done that. But the metaphor is powerful and takes it a step further.

This is just one of many examples that illustrate how the authors speak from knowledge, understanding, experience and an ability to explain and transition people. I admit to having many books on my must read books on lean. This is both a good introductory book on lean, but perhaps has a special place for those who already understand the sense of it, but can’t quite get what all the excitement is about. I think this book will help you understand and I highly recommend it.

2 Glenn Whitfield November 4, 2009 at 9:15 am

I’ve been involved in Lean for my entire career (though when I started, we didn’t call it Lean), and found The Hitchhikers Guide To Lean to be a very refreshing look at Lean Thinking. Jamie and Andy do a great job of putting into perspective that Lean is not about the tools, but about a way of thinking. To me that is the most important part – thinking. It’s something that we don’t do enough of when approaching virtually any situation be it work related or personal. The first two words of the first chapter, “Think First” put the entire book into perspective.

But let’s be clear, the type of thinking we’re talking about is not a bunch of academics sitting around the fire with cigars and brandy, trying to solve the theoretical problems of the universe. No, the type of thinking here is good ‘ole common sense. I have a problem. Let me think about how I am going to solve the problem. And when I think, it will be in a logical, common sense way, using the principles of Lean.

The book also explores some of the common pitfalls of Lean. As I read through these, I found myself shaking by head in agreement having seen many of these in organizations I’ve worked. Anyone thinking about starting a Lean journey should read this chapter twice!

A discussion on the importance of leadership and the differentiation with management was nicely done and serves as a reminder of how leadership is not a position, but an action.

Overall, a very well written book that is essential for those just beginning their Lean journey, and an excellent reminder to those of us who have been around a while of the basic principles of Lean and what it is really about. I strongly recommend it.

Nice work!


3 Ankit Patel November 10, 2009 at 6:09 pm

When I came across this book I didn’t know if it would be very different from other lean books on the market and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The book does a fantastic job to give you an intro into lean and focuses on lean as a cultural change and not a set of tools. From my own experience as the CEO of The Lean Way Consulting I can tell you that if a company doesn’t realize lean is a cultural change they will fail with their lean implantation.

Besides the content being great I also loved the analogies used to describe concepts and ideas. It really helps with learning the concepts if you are new and if you aren’t (like myself) you can use the analogies to help others understand lean better.

I gave this book along with 5 other lean books to my sales staff to read and they said that this book was hands down the best one of the bunch.

I like the main message that lean is a journey and there’s not just 1 way to get to your destination. If you are new to lean this is the book you should start reading. If you are in the midst of your lean journey this is an excellent supplemental source of information that may give you new perspective.

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