Just in time for summer, the Lean Enterprise Institute has published The Gold Mine by Freddy and Michael Balle, an excellent novel on executing a lean manufacturing turnaround. Here’s a great way to relax on the beach with an entertaining book while also getting some great ideas on how to improve your operations… without having to slog through yet another mind-numbing business best seller. Coming from the organization spawned by Womack and Jones (the authors of the definitive text on Lean, Lean Thinking), we had great expectations for this book.
Goldratt’s The Goal has been required reading for many years. It provides a good introduction to theory of constraints, also in the format of an entertaining novel. However it falls a little short on explaining how to implement the concept in the real world.
The Gold Mine goes several steps further. The novel begins with a real-life business situation that many of us have experienced… strong sales, a backlog, great products… but still a cash flow problem. By using all of the core Lean tools such as 5S, kanban, pull, heijunka, jidoka, value stream mapping, and kaizen, the novel’s characters turn the business around. Real life roadblocks are encountered, and the implementation of each concept is detailed.
Perhaps the most valuable insight is with the people side of Lean… something that many lean implementations forget about. The novel spends quite a bit of time on the emotional and leadership growth of the characters, and how they inspired their team to greatness. As Jim Womack says, "Mastery of the technical details of lean thinking is never enough. A transformation will fail without the most important element: the engagement of the people doing the work."
After reading this novel you may want to escape the beach and get back to work!