This weekend I finished reading a copy of The Lean Enterprise by Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky and Barry O’Reilly.

Top level summary: If you want to learn about the truly agile organisation, this is the book that shows you what it looks like.

The Lean Enterprise

I have read many books about agile, lean and organisations that build software, but this is the first that really brings it all together. Other books tend to be either too theoretical (founded from either Drucker or Taiichi Ohno) or with a very practical toolkit in a very narrow domain.

This book is aimed at executives and managers or organisations – the people with the authority to change to change the system. We know from W. Edwards Deming:

A bad system will beat a good person every time.

Like a book that was actually test driven by real-life questions, it provides answers to questions executives and managers ask time and time again.

The book is packed with information and provides solutions to problems that organisations, doing agile software development, struggle with in other parts of their organisation. Better yet they offer many examples of companies who are doing it right, proving that it is not just theory and that it can be done in many ways. There are many great stories from many industries demonstrating how different approaches can be yet still exhibit the lean attitude and culture that is so essential to success. I am also glad how much the authors focus on the importance of culture (and what people can do about it) and not just a single focus on either theory or tools.

The authors have done their research well, with excellent, tangible examples of lean concepts, practices and tools linked to much more detailed reading in a referenced article, paper or book. I would almost buy this book only to give people the reading list in the back – it is really that good. I have read many of the books referenced, and I remember how they challenged and changed my thinking in a positive way. After this book, my own personal reading list is also much richer.

What makes this book especially stand out for me is the pragmatic nature of the book. Even though, to many readers, the contents may appear idealistic or too unrealistic, the authors have given many examples of companies doing it, refer to many case studies or experiences where they have seen the practices and principles at work and shown their own insights into the challenges or dangers that lie ahead. This last part speaks volumes to the authors sharing their experiences about the questions some organisations have not even asked yet and advice on how to solve it. One good example is the paradoxical nature of balancing exploration through prototyping (discovery) against the disciplined nature of continuous delivery (e.g. additional work of well refactored code, tests and scripted deployments).

When I got to the end of the book, I knew that I would need to re-read the book for a deeper understanding because it is so rich with concepts and tools – some I have not had the chance to try out.

A perfect match for the target audience it was written for and a book that will continue to be relevant for many years to come.