Book review: “Lean” and “agile” in the office: New organisational concepts in digital transformation and their consequences for employees Authors: Andreas Boes, Tobias Kämpf, Barbara Langes, Thomas Lühr

from: Lothar Franz


This textbook describes the effects and resulting consequences of digital transformation for both employees and managers.

First, the reader is introduced to the conceptual framework of lean production. It is essentially aimed at optimising processes in order to avoid waste and to permit the social and organisational slack necessary for the optimal connectivity of individual sequences. Over time, these Tayloristic rationalisation and control strategies, which had been developed in a production context, finally came into use in practical, highly industrialised fashion in assembly line labour and through synchronously clocked work steps (standardisation, just-in-time production etc.). It is only logical that the productivity that has increased so rapidly in flow production has led to a consideration of how “lean” methods can also be transferred into the so-called indirect areas of the office.

Based on five case studies (regarding software development, mechanical engineering, the metal and electrical industry), the book vividly depicts different development scenarios. From “shop floor management” (mutual morning planning for the day and effort assessment within the team, as well as progress visualisation) as a core element of lean introduction, all the way to “continuous improvement” and “agile behaviour” to “SCRUM”, it explains the procedures and examines their impact on employees. The authors precisely describe the objective of the agile model: Moving away from a top-heavy hierarchical-bureaucratic process architecture towards a holistic, flexible and dynamic approach. Stated simply: De-bureaucratisation. The SCRUM is designed to develop the mind-set that is needed to generate “corresponding behaviours on the part of the employees”. It contains clear special role assignments and procedures aimed at granting the respective working groups empowerment without fears of restrictive intervention from above.

In addition, selected interview sequences generate lively images from day-to-day business. The positive leadership possibilities of shared planning and control as viewed from the macro perspective frequently appear more negative from the micro perspective of salaried employees. Just how consenting or rejecting the new procedures’ reception will be is largely dependent on how participative the implementation has been.

The same themes run through all case studies: Trust, security, error-friendliness, teamwork and mutualised knowledge. When it comes to the latter point, it is above all higher qualified specialists who end up taking a defensive stance or who fall into a professional identity crisis since they fear losing their (power) status. Leadership must be redefined in this context as a support service that creates and maintains a suitable social (yes!) space together with participants. This cultural transformation will take time and should choose a positive approach towards potential dead-ends and failures (frustrating development phases) and depict them as important learning loops. “According to the assessment of the flagship projects, it takes ‘one or two years before the first little blossoms become visible’, and four years until, from management’s perspective, success becomes visible in terms of reliability and quality: ‘… So it was a rocky path getting there, and thank God we didn’t blame the initial failures on this approach [SCRUM].’”

This textbook is a workshop report that stands out for its high practical relevance and the way it lucidly examines connections. For example, when it comes to implementation, the textbook view of SCRUM is sometimes caricatured by reality. Sometimes people mix SCRUM together with other approaches, or else they act superficially as if they were proceeding in accordance with it while they are actually just continuing on as before. Studies of successful, diverse, slimmed down, hybrid and sometimes out of control Potemkin SCRUM varieties from actual practice display what can happen when one embarks down the path of AGILITY. They show how the old system resists the new.

This is a book that’s well worth reading for everyone who is interested in this topic and who has the stamina to actively embrace the authors’ idea of creating a new “humanisation of the working world” instead of solely advocating the “digital assembly line” as the key to increased production. There is a fine line between the two – and an exciting journey ahead.


The book is also available as a free download at [open access for the transcript]: (accessed on 10.05.2018)


Authors: Andreas Boes, Tobias Kämpf, Barbara Langes, Thomas Lühr:

“Lean” und “agil” im Büro, Transcript-Verlag 2018