Book Review: The Lean Mindset

Tags: leadership, Agile, BookReviews

The subtitle of Mary and Tom Poppendieck’s latest book is “Ask the Right Questions”.  This book guides you to a different Mindset, the Lean Mindset.

They begin by defining a Mindset as a mental model that enables us to make decisions. Throughout the book you are led by Anna and Otto, two characters that represent two modes of thinking.  Otto is our everyday mind, where we make most of our decisions.He makes decisions on autopilot, adjusting quickly to any new situation. Otto uses his current mental models to guide his thoughts and actions. Anna is far more analytical. She analyzes the data behind everything and makes decisions slowly and in a measured fashion. She’s more likely to apply new models to new situations. Together, these two different ways of thinking provide a balanced view of the world and help us make great decisions. Throughout the book, they’ll show you how using both your current mental model, and questioning that model, you can improve yourself and your organization. One skill is learning to both modes of thinking appropriately.

The Poppendieck’s have again written a great book that will make you think about your organization, and how to make it better. It’s not a long book. It can be read over a weekend. but it will make you think, and think deeply.

The book is divided into 5 chapters.

The first, The Purpose of Business, discusses the Shareholder Value Theory, and Rational Economics. Then, they discuss alternative business theories, such as cooperative work systems.  They stress the wisdom of centering your business around your customers. You must define your customers, your business, and the reason for your business’s existence.

The second, Energized Workers,explores techniques that can motivate and energize workers in your business.Poppendieck’s guide us through several case studies where organizations have created an environment where workers achieve beyond normal expectations. As you’ll learn, it takes empowerment and trust, among other things.

The third chapter, Delighted Customers, is a great read for anyone in an organization practicing Agile Development. Poppendieck’s talk about the risk of building just what is required, and never building features that truly delight customers. Again, case studies are provided from companies whose products delight you.

Chapter 4, Genuine Efficiency, talks about the tensions between productivity and flow efficiency. You’ll also learn the keys to energizing your team to build the right product, and to learn as quickly as possible what products and features are delighting customers, and which are not creating the reaction you want.

The final chapter, Breakthrough Innovation, provides a few case studies on companies that have made great innovative changes to their business and achieved great success. You’ll learn about a very successful news publisher, and how Intel moved from memory chips to CPUs.

This is not a cookbook filled with recipes you can just follow. In fact, Poppendiecks’ point out that the case studies in the first and 5th chapters follow opposing recommendations. What works for one company will not work for everyone. You must ask the right questions in order to find the right path for your organization.

Like all of the Poppendiecks’ books, I highly recommend this book. It provides many thoughtful questions that will help you make your organization more effective, following a lean mindset. If you want your organization to improve, you need to read this, and think about how it can help your organization.

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