One of the most common questions I get asked about Operations Management is, “where did you learn all this stuff?” As with most things, the answer was learning by doing.

I’ve been fortunate to work in a range of roles and industries. While my resumé may look eclectic, my career has allowed me to conduct a series of experiments, applying the same techniques to different situations, then modifying those techniques based on the results.

The apparently random walk that is my career has connected themes: a focus on performance, the pivotal role of the team, trying to understand the ingredients for creating a champion team (and not a team of champions) and, finally, how to apply tools and techniques common in manufacturing but devilishly difficult to make work in a services environment.

In subsequent articles, I will share anecdotes, which highlight the many lessons I’ve learned over the years. Some of them are funny, some painful (both metaphorically and physically), others costly, but all rewarding. And all based on the same underlying body of knowledge enshrined within the following books. I have shamelessly taken the ideas, put them into practice and then continuously tweaked them until I could get them to work.

Here’s the top 10 operations management/decision sciences books I have read. I will list the more generic business and management books that I have found useful in a subsequent blog.

A word of caution, I have spent several years studying these techniques, trying to find scientifically correct answers to business problems. I worked hard to make sure I had all of the relevant facts and data, used the appropriate technique, avoided “geek-speak”, presenting the approach and results in plain English, in a way that was clearly intelligible to my audience. However, I have lost count of how many times the facts point to option A, but the decision-maker chooses option B, similar to the climate-change debate in the US today. The lesson here is, there is no such thing as the “right” decision, there will only ever be a political decision.

No. 10: Operations Management; Alistair Brandon-Jones, Nigel Slack, Robert Johnston
An excellent foundation text book covering all the main topics of day-to-day operations management and how they come together – comprehensive but accessible.

No. 9: Service Operations Management; Robert Johnston, Graham Clark, Michael Shulver
As the title suggests (and the linkage with Robert Johnston as common author), this book covers the key aspects of running an operation day-to-day, specifically within a service context and focusing on all of the challenges that introduces.

No. 8: Spreadsheet Modeling and Decision Analysis: A Practical Introduction to Business Analytics; Cliff Ragsdale
Very practical reference work for applying the major business analytics tools. Many, many practical examples laid out step-by-step and cell-by-cell.

No. 7: Making Hard Decisions with Decision Tools Suite; Robert T Clemen, Terence Reilly, Samuel E Bodily, Jeffery Guyse
Great introduction to the decision sciences field and the tools and techniques that can help solve difficult business problems.

No. 6: Out of the Crisis; W Edwards Deming
The father of the quality movement in the 1980s, this book lays out his famous 14 points: “Long-term commitment to new learning and new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation. The timid and the fainthearted, and the people that expect quick results, are doomed to disappointment.”

No. 5: The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, Eliyahu Goldratt
One of the most famous operations management books, as much for its fast-paced, thriller style but also for making the Theory of Constraints intelligible and accessible.

No. 4: Statistics for Business and Economics; James T. McClave, P. George Benson, Terry Sincich
An introductory text on statistical literacy and the importance of using facts and data to make business decisions. Unfortunately, far too many decisions are made based on opinion, power and politics and so any text that can sow the seeds of relevance is worth reading in my opinion.

No. 3: Lean Six Sigma Pocket Toolbook; Michael L. George, John Maxey, David Rowlands, Mark Price
Great summary of which tools to use in the lean six sigma toolkit and how to use them. Lots of step-by-step examples.

No. 2: Operations Strategy; Nigel Slack, Mike Lewis
There aren’t too many books on this topic, but this does a great job of elevating operations from the factory floor into the boardroom. It explores how operations can create competitive advantage, with interesting insights on long-term capacity management, organisational models and the nature of trade-offs.

No. 1: Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution; Michael Hammer, James Champy
I have placed it in the number one spot, as much for how it generated conversation in the boardroom, linking business performance improvement to process, as for the detail of the approach. One of the most successful management texts of the last 20 years.

Happy reading – may the long winter evenings simply fly by! (or summer holidays for those in the Southern hemisphere)

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