The books those in operations management need

A pile of books


1 Operations Management (10th edition) 

By Nigel Slack, Alistair Brandon-Jones and Nicola Burgess (2022). Published by Pearson

Operations management is concerned with how organisations create and deliver services and products. Everything you wear, eat, sit on…every service you experience is brought to you by operations managers.

That’s the opening gambit to the international bestselling Operations Management textbook. Now in its 10th edition, the book remains the go-to text for all students of the subject, from undergraduate to MBA.

That the book is listed in the Financial Times Teaching Power Rankings' top 10 most highly cited texts in business, marketing, accounting, and economics (and top for the operations management discipline), is testament to the clarity with which the book imparts its subject.


2 The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger

By Marc Levinson (2008). Published by Princeton University Press.

For a more detailed dive into the history of operations management, I recommend Levinson's take on the global supply chain.

This book describes the origins of global trade through one of the key innovations of the 20th Century: standardisation of the shipping container.

You might be thinking the invention of a shipping container probably won’t make for an enthralling read, but you would be wrong.

Described as the real-world equivalent of the internet revolution, The Box is exceptional in its illumination of the shipping container as a ‘disruptive’ innovation that dramatically changed the processes of international trade, ultimately shaping today’s globalised economy. This book is a must read for all operations management geeks - and everyone else for that matter. 


3 The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail

By Clayton Christensen (1997). Published by Harvard Business Review Press.

Staying with the subject of disruptive innovation, Christensen’s classic book is an important read.

It is not strictly an operations management book, but the Innovator's Dilemma underscores the importance of developing new ideas and pushing out what operations scholars refer to as the efficiency frontier.

As Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation shows, sometimes process improvement alone is not enough - sometimes we need to change what we do and how we do things altogether.


4 This is Lean: Resolving the Efficiency Paradox

By Niklas Modig and Par Ahlstrom (2012). Published by Rheologica Publishing.

Modig and Ahlstrom provide an excellent description and demystification of the practice of 'lean' from a service perspective.

Despite the wide-spread popularity of lean across almost every sector around the world, it remains a subject that is widely misunderstood in practice.

The topic of lean is simultaneously conceived as a broad 'philosophy of operations' as well as a very narrow process improvement method. It is of course, both of these things.

But the all-encompassing perspective of lean can make it a topic that is difficult to grasp, difficult to teach, and difficult to practice; by contrast, a narrow perspective of lean as an improvement tool perpetuates misunderstanding and mis-implementation.

Modig and Ahlstrom’s book provides useful insight into the 'what' and 'why' of lean, making this hugely influential, yet widely misunderstood subject, tangible for both student and practitioner. 


5 The Fearless Organisation

By Amy Edmonson (2018). Published by Wiley.

Finally, in keeping with my earlier point about lean being a topic that is hard to grasp, one of the most overlooked yet fundamental aspects of lean is ‘respect for people’.

This so-called pillar of the Toyota Production System, from which lean is derived, frequently gets forgotten or ignored.

Far from a glib message about the importance of ‘being nice’, respect for people is linked to psychological safety, productivity, and competitive advantage.

Edmonson’s book teaches us that nurturing psychological safety – where employees feel empowered to speak up without fear of being shut down or punished – is fundamental for learning, innovation and growth.

A business could have the most talented workforce, the best ideas, and the most efficient processes, but the business will not succeed in the long term unless the work climate is free of fear.

Fearless Organisation is essential reading; respect for people is essential practice.


Nicola Burgess is Reader of Operations Management and teaches Operations Management on the Distance Learning MBA. She also lectures on Digital Innovation in the Healthcare Industry on the Executive MBA and Foundations of Business in the Foundation Year.

Follow Nicola Burgess on Twitter @DrNicolaBurgess.

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