My favourite improvement books: A dozen reads that have influenced my practice

Free image from Gellinger on Pixabay

Over the last couple of months or so, a few people has asked me for ideas and thoughts as to which book should they read about ‘improvement’. To be honest, it isn’t something I have given much thought to. There are so many great books about improvement, and it probably depends how you define ‘improvement’ anyway. But I liked the questions and they made me think about my favourite books.

Therefore, here is a blog about 12 improvement books that have influenced my practice and thinking. They are not my ‘top 12’, and they are not in any particular order either, mostly because there is no specific method to my madness of this blog. They are simply the books that on reflection I really do think have influenced me. I do own all of them, slightly dog-eared, and in the case of 2 of them replaced with newer editions, some are just ancient editions. Inevitably, I will think of at least 5 other books to add to the list within minutes of publishing this blog. (I have tried to stick with ‘improvement’ books here, rather than more general change, leadership or operations management type of books too).

When I look at my list, it is a collection of books that led to a life long passion for improvement including the one that got me hooked: ‘Machine that changed the world’. I still love the rich description of the automobile industry in the first 3 chapters. The list reflects my career origin in manufacturing and the era that started with Lean Thinking and then my transition to health (what is this ‘QI’ everyone keeps talking about anyway?).

It also reflects books that fundamentally challenged my view of improvement and improvement practice (Healthcare regulation; the Gold mine trilogy) and sometimes books that reinforced my thinking (The improvement guide). Books that helped me develop technical skill and insight (Understanding variation & Kaizen) and books that helped me to understand more about what it means to really lead improvement relationally (Leading a lean culture, Toyota Kata and the Toyota Way). Mann’s Shingo prize winning book remains under read imho. I think he might have coined the phase that ‘improvement is 20% technical, 80% relational’ well before others.

And finally the remaining books are reads that really made me reflect on what improvement is, and isn’t, and what do I think it is, and who do I think gets to define ‘improvement’ and what does that mean for me and for care (Out of the crisis, Bringing user experience to healthcare improvement, Designing care). These ones are the one that I return to when thinking about and how might I improve my practice and help others if requested.

I would really love to know more about improvement books that have influenced you.

The List

1. Womack, Jones and Roos. (1990) The Machine that Changed the World

2. Langley et al. (2009) The Improvement Guide

3. Imai (1988) Kaizen

4. Liker (2004) Toyota Way (and Toyota Culture (2008) with Micheal Hoseus)

5. Deming (1986) Out of the crisis

6. Rother (2017; 2018) Toyota Kata Practice Guide & Toyota Kata Culture

7. Balle & Balle (2005-2014) The Gold Mine Trilogy

8. Bate et al. (2007) Bringing user experience to healthcare improvement: The concepts, methods and practices of experience based design.

9. Mann (2004) Creating a lean culture

10. Wheeler (1993) Understanding variation: The key to managing chaos

11. Walshe (2003) Healthcare regulation

12. Bohmer (2009) Designing care: Aligning the nature and management of healthcare


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