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A novel of lean turnaround and Shingo Research Prize recipient for 2006

A growing number of successful companies are turning to lean thinking to maintain a competitive edge in a global economy of falling prices, rising quality, and relentless competition. Yet while there are many excellent resources that teach both the tools and principles, no single book addresses what might be the most important lean discipline of all-the human challenge of creating and sustaining the commitment of the people doing the work.

The Gold Mine deftly weaves together the technical and human pieces of implementing lean manufacturing in an engaging story that readers will find both compelling and instructive. Authors Freddy and Michael Ballé have produced the first integrated and systematic approach to a set of ideas that have maximized value and minimized waste throughout the world.

At the heart of The Gold Mine is Bob Woods, a curmudgeonly sensei coaxed out of retirement by his son Mike to help boyhood friend Phil Jenkinson save his struggling company. Despite terrific products and a backlog of orders, Phil’s company cannot generate enough cash from its operations to pay its bills. And so Mike enlists Bob to help his pal fix this crisis.

“You’re trying to deal with your mess as if it was a technical problem,” Bob tells Phil. “Move this machine here, change this design there, which it is to some extent, but… it’s all about people. You have a leadership problem not just a production or business problem.” As Phil begins to tackle the key challenges necessary to improve his company’s operations, he comes to understand the deeper points of lean. Readers will also draw powerful insights from his journey.

The Gold Mine presents all the key lean principles, ranging from well-known ideas such as pull and flow, to lesser-known yet equally important principles such as jidoka and heijunka. The book also reveals lean as a system-using a realistic story to show how the principles are interrelated and how they lead to useful tools such as kanban or 5S. Freddy Ballé draws from his authority of one of Europe’s preeminent lean veterans, bringing his knowledge to life in the context of a dramatic human story of managers and employees struggling to apply these tools and ideas in a successful turnaround.

“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,” says publisher James Womack. “The Gold Mine is the first book to comprehensively introduce all the lean tools by means of a vivid personal story showing how hearts and minds are won over. It will spark ah-ha’s from everyone who has been there and provide profound insight for those who are just getting started. I can’t recommend it highly enough as a way to teach your people the key lean tools that always lead to success while also teaching, in the words of Bob Woods, that “it’s all about people.”

“Reading The Gold Mine is like eavesdropping on a sensei dispensing gems to a client,” says co-publisher Daniel Jones. “The Ballé draw from a remarkable perspective of wisdom and experience. Readers, especially those individuals working on the shop floor, will gain revelation and inspiration by living through the experiences of the hero. This is an experiential novel that will resonate deeply with people who relate it to their own lives. Managers and executives just beginning a lean transformation will learn valuable insights about how to sidestep the technical and people problems that lay ahead. And experienced lean thinkers will discover fresh insights about overcoming resistance to change.”

For more than 30 years, Freddy Ballé worked as a manufacturing and engineering manager or executive at Renault and auto suppliers in Europe. He started visiting Toyota plants in Japan in the mid-1970s to study the Toyota Production System. Michael Ballé, business consultant and author, is associate professor (adjunct) at the American University of Paris and the co-founder of the Project Lean Entreprise in France. He is Freddy’s son.

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