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The Gold Mine.

The Gold Mine, by Freddy Balle and Michael Balle, Book, 2005, Lean Enterprise Institute, $24.95.

Storytelling has been an accepted teaching principle since before humans first drew pictures of their hunting prowess on cave walls. The spoken word--songs, ceremonies, and conversation--has been a way (and in many cases, the only way) to pass down tradition and culture, train young warriors and hunters in the skills necessary to survive, and school young mothers in childrearing and the household and farming skills also necessary to survive.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. The "business fable," a recent reincarnation of classic storytelling as teaching technique, has helped many a young (and old) modern day business warrior through the jungle that is the manufacturing world. Examples are numerous and include what are now classics: Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox's The Goal, Ken Blanchard and Jim and Diana Robinson's Zap the Gaps, Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese?, and William Byham and Jeff Cox's "Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment."

Each story works through a complex business or manufacturing concept in classic archetypal style: The wiser, experienced teacher (generally garrulous or cantankerous to add a dash of character and realism) nurtures the knowledge-seeking acolyte or novice through a series of questions and exercises that lead to enlightenment.

To this list add Freddy and Michael Balle's The Gold Mine: A Novel of Lean Turnaround. A father-son team, Freddy and Michael, bring a unique perspective to the operational and maintenance disciplines of lean manufacturing. Freddy worked in the French auto industry for over 40 years, learning and implementing the Toyota production system upon which the concepts of lean manufacturing were first developed. Michael, a professor and business consultant, has focused on the human application and implications of the lean manufacturing system.

Each chapter moves the story forward, with love interests, sailing lessons, and marital stress, and provides an explanation and application of each of the concepts that make up lean manufacturing theory. The concepts include:

* Gold in the Flow: discrete flow of "widgets" or the process flow of a refinery--it's all about reducing waste.

* Takt Time: producing what the customer consumes, no more and no less.

* Standardize Work: reducing the variation in the working cycle (i.e., Single Minute Exchange of Dies SMED).

* It's All about the People (my personal favorite): reduce variability in the environment to increase involvement, personal commitment, and coordination. This is where the concepts of 5S come into play.

* Level to Pull: sequential and replenishment pull or the movement of work in progress through the system.

* Kanban Rules: produce only what has been consumed in the right order.

* Gemba Attitude: the place where things really happen.

* The Heijunka Way: leveling.

* Kaizen Forever: continuous improvement in many small steps.

Throughout the course of the fable, the human elements of lean manufacturing are explored as much as the technical aspects. There are labor problems, management problems, and heroes and heroines on the plant floor and in the executive suite. The combination gives the business fable soul and the power to inspire and teach.

The business fable format makes the lean manufacturing concepts both easy to understand and to apply across diverse industries. The characters and plot line bring home the necessity of eliminating waste and speed to market more than a textbook could. The Gold Mine is an easy read, well developed and organized.


For any leader or manager in a manufacturing business seeking to reach new heights of productivity or a plant floor supervisor looking to understand the changes going on around her, this is a must-read. There's an advisory on this book, however. Someone who likes business content cast in story form will enjoy the plot as a welcome addition to (and maybe relief from?) the professional content. Someone who doesn't will be annoyed by the distraction and may consider the story second-rate fiction.

The Gold Mine Freddy Balle, Mich ...


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Review by Richard Lowell
Product Ratings

The Gold Mine

Holds user interest ***
Value of Content ****
Self-Study Value ***
Instructional Value ***
Value for the money *** 1/2
Overall rating ***
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Author:Lowell, Richard
Publication:Training Media Review
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Previous Article:Measuring What Matters.
Next Article:Making Change Happen.

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