Imagine being more productive, more efficient, less stressed,
and more successful in your work.
Imagine achieving this without a brain transplant, a mastery
of office politics on the order of J. Pierrepont Finch, or a raft
of assistants ministering to your needs.
Bear with me for a moment for a brief digression about
the auto industry. In 1986, it took General Motors 40 hours to
make a car, with an average of 13 defects per car. At that same
time, Toyota could produce an equivalent car in 18 hours with
only 4.5 defects per car. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find
industry reports showing that GM has now equaled the top
manufacturers in efficiency.
What enabled Toyota to outperform GM so remarkably
in 1986? What was behind the incredible quality improve-
ment at GM since that time? Fancy robots? Government bail-
outs? Positive thinking and expensive team-building retreats?
Actually, none of these. (Okay, well maybe two—but they are
not the real reason.) No, over the past two decades GM and
virtually every other manufacturing company that still matters
has made profound gains in their operations by adopting a
fundamentally different approach to making things. It’s called
Lean production.
Forget what you may have heard about Lean methods
being something that only belongs on the factory floor. In the
past decade, pharmaceutical firms, hospitals, banks, insurance
xii ◾  Introduction
companies—even Starbucks—have adopted Lean tools to
improve quality and lower costs. In fact, over the past half-
century, Lean has proven to be the only system that reliably
enables companies to increase output and quality while reduc-
ing the required resources. (Toyota actually developed its Lean
production system specifically in response to its nearly nonex-
istent resources in the wake of World War II.)
I believe that this system can bring you, individually, the
same benefits.
Because while Lean has enabled companies to make huge
gains in how they get things done, there is a new and vast
frontier still waiting to be improved: the daily world of indi-
vidual work. Your workthe work of product development,
of advertising sales, of marketing, of human resources benefits
management, whatever—the work you do in these functions
can be transformed. By applying Lean principles to your work,
right now, you can reduce the effort and frenzy that character-
ize your days and get more, higher-quality work done with
less stress.
Lean is not a panacea for all problems, of course. Your boss
may still be taking leadership lessons from Bill Lumburgh in
the movie Office Space. Your company may still have broken
processes, silly policies, and antiquated software. But if you
learn and adopt a basic set of Lean principles, youll foster a
new mindset that will enable you to see your work differently,
do it better, and start on a path of constant improvement and
learning in the process.
There are several reasons Im so passionate about this
approach to productivity—but the most important might
be that it works. These ideas are not just a collection of
inspirational stories or vague exhortations designed to
inspire you to “work smarter, not harder. Has anyone ever
explained how to work smarter, not harder? What does that
mean, anyway?

Get A Factory of One now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.