The Lean Information Management Toolkit - a book review

How can information managers apply the concepts of 'lean' management to their work? Steve Bailey reviews a book that sets out to provide practical help.

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Books which challenge records management orthodoxy are few and far between but always very welcome.  Andy Ibbitson and Robin Smith's new book, The Lean Information Management Toolkit definitely falls into this category.  Lean, a management approach with its roots in the Japanese car industry, would seem at first glance to have little relevance to today's information manager.  After all we have no production lines to rationalise, no supply chains to streamline nor factory floors to reconfigure.  But lean isn't just about manufacturing.  Its relentless focus on what adds value to the customer and unstinting efforts to remove that which doesn't (waste or 'Muda' in lean terminology) is equally applicable in other contexts, including as the authors make clear, the world of information management.

Lean management - a new path for information managers?

It must be said that the authors have given themselves a difficult task to achieve here.  For not only does they need to provide a comprehensive lean 'primer' for those totally new to this area, but also to carve new ground in explaining and convincing of its relevance to the information management arena and then to provide enough practical guidance and tips to allow the information manager to take steps in the right direction. 

On the whole the authors make valiant strides in achieving all of these goals, though at times I was left a little confused as to whether the main intention with this book is to be a general guide to lean for information managers, or an attempt to define and document a new branch of lean practice: Lean Information Management.  The book seemed to see-saw a little between the two and by the end I was still left a little unsure as to where its main intentions lie.

But this is not to take away from the importance of this work in setting out an exciting new path for information management and one which has the promise to address areas where it has been traditionally - and in the current economic climate perhaps dangerously - weak. 

Focus on the customer

Lean Information Management (LIM) necessitates an unswerving focus on adding and demonstrating value to 'the customer', something which seems to have fallen largely by the way side during the compliance-driven agendas of the past decade or so.  It is also an approach focused around the business process.  Put simply it requires you to identify the processes which directly contribute to achieving the end task (the 'value-stream'), to remove any impediments to making this stream 'flow' and to stripping out anything which does not positively contribute to the above (the 'muda' or waste referred to earlier).  The importance of 'the process' is nothing new to the records manager, but even so, rare is the example where the process and the management of the information it creates are so seamless as to be indivisible.  LIM, on the other hand is built on just such foundations and this, combined with the focus on value and benefits measurement has the potential to do much to integrate information and records management into core business processes and thereby cement its value to the enterprise. 


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