Book Review: Lean Enterprise

Lean Enterprise


Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky, Barry O'Reilly

My Rating

star star star star star

A special book to me is one that contains so much useful information that I feel saddened by the inevitability that I won’t be able to absorb and remember all of that useful knowledge forever. Emotionaly conflicting, Lean Enterprise is one of those rare books.

Never before have I read a book that takes a top-to-bottom view of creating a high-performing tech company. Some books focus on business, some on culture, others on technical skills. Lean Enterprise, however, provides a holistic model of principles and practices ranging from financial budgeting down to continuous delivery and trunk-based development.

As a generalist with a keen interest in learning not just about my craft, but the wider business context and beyond, there was lots in this book for me to get excited about; leadership, management, business process, engineering, product development, psychology, accounting (CapEx vs OpEx etc).

If your range of interests is broad and you have high levels of intrigue beyond your speciality, I think you would also love this book, no matter what your role in a tech company is.

Lean Enterprise doesn’t just pull in information from a variety of topics. It cohesively packages them into a kind of blueprint. For example,it brings together concepts like Impact Mapping, Mission Command, and the Business Model Canvas and shows how they can all be applied synergistically as part of an overall strategy.

Where Does Lean Fit In?

Lean Enterprise addresses multiple areas of an organisation, including product innovation, engineering practices, and cross-functional collaboration. Lean principles, like flow, reduction of waste, and short feedback cycles are used extensively amongst all of them.

The authors make a distinction between lean development and lean operations. Concisely put, lean engineering is about conducting experiments with short feedback cycles to explore uncertainty, whereas lean operations is primarily concerned with eliminating waste to drive efficiency improvements.

As far as I can remember, these two lean approaches collectively underpin all of the guidelines in the book.

While lean development and lean operations form the foundation, they are heavily supplemented with relevant works from distinguished experts like Simon Wardley, Daniel Kahneman, and Mary Poppendieck. That’s one reason this book is invaluable - it judiciously stitches together diverse but highly-effective concepts.

A Battle Plan Against Command-and-control

Implicit in some arguments and explicit in others, it’s clear to me that Lean Enterprise is a battle plan for moving organisations away from the traditional command-and-control type of organisation and toward a more connected organisation with decentralised decision making.

At the heart of their proposal is Mission Command - which they borrow from the works of Don Reinertsen - an alternative to command-and-control that empowers lower-level workers with knowledge and purpose.

If you’re stuck in a command-and-control organisation, this book is well worth your time. But be warned, it’s a long and arduous journey to get from where you are now to where the authors want to take you. They are extremely honest about the difficulties you will face implementing their ideas. But they provide enough evidence to show you that it is worthwhile and enough detail that you can put their advice into practice.

Why is This Book Credible?

I’ve just given high praise to this book, yet much of the information presented is new to me. How do I really know that it will work in practice? How can I sit here and say you should read this book, when I have not put the advice into practice myself?

A lot of the suggestions in Lean Enterprise I am very familiar with: Continuous Delivery, organisational alignment, Kanban, The Business Model Canvas etc. These concepts are presented logically in a way that matches with my experience (see my blog for more evidence).

This gives me confidence that the information I am less familiar with, for example the accounting rethink, is equally masterful.

Now I have to go and read it all again and make lots of useful notes.

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