How Lean changed the world, one book at a time

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” – Walt Disney

Learning is the process through which people acquire knowledge, skills and /or attitudes. A new attitude means we change previously held beliefs, and typically change how we behave e.g. we gain confidence or we learn to accept a different approach to life and its problems. Over the past couple of decades, a number of books on lean practices have strongly influenced how we view process management, teamwork and problems solving. You may be interested in reading the following books in order to broaden and deepen your knowledge of lean. They are only a few in the vast array of literature available on lean, however they are very genuine in their intent, have a good academic grounding, and at the same time are very readable and digestible.

The first of these books is called Lean Thinking. It was written by James Womack and Daniel Jones and originally published in 1996. This is the book that became the first international bestseller that really publicized the Toyota production system for a Western audience. This is also the book that brought us the five lean principles that we know today. It contains guidelines on implementing lean, as well as case studies on the implementation of lean outside manufacturing.

The next book that I’m going to recommend comes directly from the horse’s mouth, and I don’t mean to disparage Mr. Taiichi Ohno in any way. Having started off as an engineer within the Toyoda family business in the 1930s, Taiichi Ohno rose in the ranks of the Toyota Motor Company, developing and perfecting the Toyota Production System (what we now call ‘Lean’) as he progressed. This work was accomplished with the pioneering support of the Toyoda family, who own the Toyota Motor Company.  This lovely little book, called ‘Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management’, is written in a conversational style. It is a compilation of interviews with Mr Ohno conducted by the japan Management Association in 1982. The chapters are short and it is full of pearls of wisdom, some of which may be counter intuitive.

For example, he’s not a huge advocate of automation, whereas many companies pursue automation as a measure to reduce costs. The author says that this is not necessarily the best thing to do. I would highly recommend this book to gain an understanding from one of the key founding fathers of lean within the Toyota motor company.

The third book, and that I want to bring to your attention is the one that’s probably most popular as a lean manual at the moment. It’s called The Toyota Way, and it’s written by Jeffrey liker. This book brings you 14 management principles from Toyota. Now, no more than the key principles outlines in Lean Thinking, Toyota don’t say they have five lean principles, nor do Toyota say that they have 14 management principles. This is what Jeffrey liker has interpreted from observing and studying at the Toyota way and from interviewing a number of managers who have worked in various Toyota plants over the years. This is a very good detailed guideline for any manager who is interested in implementing lean in their organization.

Please don’t be put off by the fact that the publication dates of all 3 books that I recommend are well in the past. The contents would change little if edited for today’s audience. Speaking of audience, you needn’t be alone in your reading activities. Why not form a study group at work? This is a popular and profitable way to read a book. Each person in the group takes responsibility for reading a chapter and presenting it back to the others at a weekly meeting. The presentation comes first, and then a discussion on the applicability of that lean topic in your organisation. Group learning is fun and effective, and less onerous that reading the book on your own.

I hope that you found this brief review useful to you and will encourage you to do some background reading on lean principles and practices to support you in transforming your organization.

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Lean manufacturing
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Lean Thinking
James P Womack
Daniel T Jones
Taiichi Ohno
Workplace Management
Toyota Way

© Bernie Rushe, BSc, CPIM, Dip SA, MSc, Black Belt
Bernie@LeanIreland.ie, +353-87-2837810

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