Category Archives: Bookshelf

Culture doesn’t operate in a vacuum and neither should you. If you’re seeking inspiration, advice, tools or want to get case studies and practical examples, check out my bookshelf for the best books on workplace culture, lean thinking and systems thinking. When you hear about people that wrote the book on a subject, these are the books they’re talking about and should be on any self-respecting culture junkie’s bookshelf. Open up a book to open up your mind!

Turn the Ship Around – Culture lessons from a Nuclear Submariner

If you’re looking for real world case studies of how to deliver people from the evils of Command & Control, this part memoir, part manual by an ex-Nuclear Submarine commander is bursting at the seams with hard won wisdom and practical applications and winning a lot of praise from lean thinkers like Mark Rosenthal.

Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules was written by L.David Marquet and details his experiences shifting teams and people from the debilitating, inevitable consequences of absolute command & control to an emancipated culture based on devolved control decision making, elevated competence and shared clarity.

Marquet describes how he observed all sorts of poor performance, errors and low morale created as a direct result of the command & control culture. Working to targets rather than beyond, silly mistakes and errors that were inside the process but outside commons sense. Continue reading →

Freedom from Command and Control

There are several small forests worth of books on implementing Lean in a manufacturing context, but very few on implementing Lean in a service organisation. John Seddon’s Freedom from Command and Control: A Better Way to Make the Work Work is a stand out entry for me; part manifesto, part searing critique of traditional management techniques, it’s a brilliant approach to applying the underpinning philosophy of Lean to a service enterprise.

Seddon uses the term ‘Systems Thinking’ to capture the approach to developing highly functioning operations. As a vision for how to manage better it really gets to the heart of the idea that a manager’s primary role is to act on the system to make whatever work is required, work better. Your job is to make it easier for your people to deliver on their ambitions, to be able to exercise their heads to make their working lives easier and as a direct result – in fact almost as a side effect – create significantly more value for customers and massively reduced cost.

The Machine that Changed the World

If you’re going to read only one book about the Toyota Production System, this classic has to be on the shortlist. The Machine that Changed the World is a deep, fascinating history and analysis of the impact of implementing Lean thinking on an enterprise, focused on the cultural manufacturing practices and philosophy embedded in Toyota. The contrasts against other car manufacturers are illuminating and occasionally brutal illustration of how not to operate.

Lean thinking is commonly associated with a focus on eliminating waste and building maximum efficienices into supply chains and production lines. The element not so commonly referred to (but just as vital and given equal prominence/priority by Toyota) is respect for people – the idea that your people are an enormous asset and should be given the space to use their brains and tools to act on the systems they work in to make things better.

Joy, Inc. – how Rich Sheridan created a great place to work

Just finished this. How We Built a Workplace People Love is a great inspiration and practical case study for all developers, digital product types and any fans of new fangled ways of working. There’s nothing too radical in here (agile, pair-programming, disciplined project planning, kanban, people as assets, humanity in the workplace – oh wait, that probably is radical in some cubefarms), but Rich Sheridan of Menlo Innovations sets out a great impassioned case for how they pulled off putting it all together.