As the world adjusts to the consequences of the pandemic, all businesses face a new era of uncertainty. For the CEO, just waiting for a return to the pre-coronavirus situation is a risky bet since this could take years or never happen at all. This leaves only one way forward: adapting to the new world as it unfolds.
But the larger the company, the more difficult it is to turn the ship around. Even with a few dozen employees, you feel the weight of the "big company disease" dragging you down: employees keep following the same old habits even when customer needs and business priorities have changed; departments pursue their own agendas and compete for resources instead of working together for the success of the whole company; middle-managers unwittingly stifle the creativity of front-line employees who could have come up with game-changing ideas.
As a result, too many problems keep getting to you, and it becomes even harder to sustain profitability and growth. How do you get out of this situation?
The quest for performance
I have spent the past twenty years working on how to build high performance organizations. As a young software engineer in the late 90s, I was one of the early mavericks introducing Agile practices, fighting bureaucratic organizations from within to lead extremely fast projects with close-knit teams. I even got fired for delivering a 12-month project in only 6 months, with a defect rate two orders of magnitude below that of most other projects across the company.
However after ten years of real-world projects, after writing the first French book on agile and after giving talks at dozens of conferences and helping grow the Agile community, I realized that what we had done was far from sufficient. Product teams were entangled again in the politics of large organizations, we were losing the fight. This led me to an aha moment: in order to build world-class products, the whole company needed to be aligned on the customer, and individual initiative needed to be nurtured in every department. But how to achieve this ideal in practice?
In 2009, I decided to "ctrl-alt-del" my career and embark on a journey to study the business practices of Toyota. Why Toyota? Since WWII, this company has pioneered a radical new model which has helped it become the most valuable car manufacturer in the world, overcoming major crises over decades. It completely transformed its industry, and even inspired giants such as Amazon, Pixar or Zara.
I thus quit my software development activity and eventually worked with more than a hundred teams in all areas of business - support, operations, sales, product development, marketing, HR, finance - to adapt this model to modern tech companies. I was lucky enough to be taught the Toyota practices by world class experts, and I even made several trips to Japan to study the "real thing" in depth.
Since 2016 I have been working with leading scale-up CEOs to study how these approaches could be used as a model for a whole company. The results have been astounding.
A proven model
The study of these practices outside of Toyota is a 40-year worldwide effort which was given the name "lean". But hold on! The lean I'm talking about is very different from what you probably already know. This has nothing to do with Lean Startup, Agile, Lean Kanban, nor the improvement projects led by big consulting firms.
What I have learned over the past decade is that lean is a complete business strategy. It is a radical new model in which we do not try to control what people do, we try to dig into how they think about their work and we learn together how we can better collaborate to create more value for society with the less waste of effort, time and natural resources. And at the core of this approach, hidden in plain sight, lies a marvel of alien technology: the kanban.
The lean journey is a tough one, because it turns your thinking upside down on every dimension of your business. But now I have seen with my own eyes how it helps companies become places where people come to work to learn, grow, take care of their peers and their customers.
A hands-on practice
I am convinced that work as we know it is broken and is the cause of untold amounts of frustration and waste. The command & control, finance-first model which dominates the business world today needs to die. I am convinced that lean is the management model of the future. And it is not just theory: it is a concrete, hands-on practice for leaders ready to spend time with their teams, on the field, to create more value for their customers.
I have written this book to help you follow the path and embark on your own lean journey. I have done my best to make it as concise and practical as possible, so that you too can start exploring what lean means in your own business and help us show that a different kind of organization is not only possible, but far superior to the one which has led us here.