Lean Thinking : Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation

Lean Thinking : Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation

If The Machine That Changed the World is a description of the Toyota system in the industry of its origin, Lean Thinking is a generalization of the basic concepts so they can be applied to any company in any industry. The authors begin by summarizing the five inherent principles in any lean system: 1 correctly specify value so you are providing what the customer actually wants, 2 identify the value stream for each product family and remove the wasted steps that don’t create value but do create muda (waste), 3 make the remaining value-creating flow continuously to drastically shorten throughput times, 4 allow customer to pull value from your rapid-response value streams as needed (rather than pushing products toward the customer on the basis of forecasts), and 5 never relax until you reach perfection, which is the delivery of pure value instantaneously with zero muda. (The first part of Lean Thinking devotes a chapter to each of these principles.) In the second part, the authors describe in detail how managers in a wide range of companies and industries – small, medium and large, North American, European and Japanese – transformed their business by applying the principles of lean thinking. Chapters are devoted to Pratt and Whitney, Wiremold, Lantech in North America, Porsche in Germany, and Showa Manufacturing in Japan. Lean Thinking has sold more than 300,000 copies in the English language hard-cover version alone, because it’s an indispensable companion for every manager making the lean journey.


  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Productivity Press; 1st edition (September 9, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684810352
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684810355
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
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  1. Lean Thinking has its strengths. The authors do a good job of explaining the principles behind lean manufacturing and show good data from varied case studies to convey the value in implementing lean manufacturing. They make a strong case that these principles can reduce waste and costs, reduce lead times, and improve quality and resource utilization. This book is not a practical guide, however. I found it to be somewhat of a “warm and fuzzy” overview aimed at top execs and business strategists as opposed to plant, production, and manufacturing managers. The details of certain key roadblocks aren’t addressed, for example: 1. Across the board firings of managers who oppose lean principles. Not as easy as it sounds. 2. Vastly improving changeover times and rearranging big machinery without a generous budget. 3. Making radical changes on your shop floor despite heavy production demands. 4. Dealing with a union that is not willing to concede the initial layoff without a massive war, despite a company crises. There are many others. One thing that I got a kick out of – when Japanese consultants were called in to implement lean changes in a plant, they began taking machinery apart and moving it themselves. At many plants I’ve seen, if a foreign consultant were to do that, he’d probably be shot before he made it out of the parking lot. Though the authors are self-admitedly theorists and the book lacks a lot of “nuts and bolts” detail, they do a good job of teaching the principles and laying out the results.

  2. Unlike most cost-reduction books, Lean Thinking has a strong conceptual underpinning for thinking about improving your operations. The authors move beyond the narrowest application of the lean manufacturing model (the original Toyota system) to explore key concepts like value (what do the customers want? as opposed to what do they choose from the limited options we give them?), flow (continuous production is faster and more efficient than batch processing), pull (letting immediate demand determine what is produced rather than sales projections), and perfection (thinking through the ideal way to do things, rather than just improving from where you are today somewhat). Providing this conceptual framework makes it easier to understand the benefits of operating a lean enterprise. People who did not understand the message in Direct from Dell would find Lean Thinking to be a useful framework.
    One of the strengths of this book is that it is deliberately full of examples of companies which took traditional methods in existing plants and converted them into lean operations. I know of no other set of case histories half as useful on this subject.
    The key limitation of this book is that most people new to lean manufacturing would not be able to implement solely using the book as a guide. The conceptual perspective, while being uniquely valuable, leaves the inexperienced person with few guideposts. Some of the key requirements are simply described as “get the knowledge” and so forth. As a follow-up, I suggest that the authors team with those who have done this work and write a hands-on guide. Much more benefit will follow.Read more ›

  3. Lean Thinking does an excellent job of detailing what is wrong with the standard business processes in North America and pretty much the rest of the world. The authors also do a very good job of introducing (I hadn’t yet read The Machine that Changed the World) and explaining their ideas to make clear that there is a much better way available to companies.
    I have long been a big believer that all employees are valuable resources that are all to often wasted due to ‘right sizing’ efforts to achieve immediate monetary targets. Lean Thinking has total employee involvement as a basic pillar of the theory.
    The business examples they provide are bulletproof, and definitely make the case that what they suggest can be done.
    The problems I had with the book had to do with credibly backing up many of the claims the authors make, like ” quality always zooms when flow and pull thinking are put in place together.” Is there any hard evidence to back up this assertion? No in the book. The authors make many guarantees about eye-popping improvements their theory will bring if it is implemented correctly.
    Implementation is where I have the biggest problem with this book. Womack and Jones certainly do a good job of explaining their theory and backing it up with impeccable examples, but it all adds up to another book in which the authors tell you what you HAVE to do, but not how to do it. It is my opinion that made yet another contribution to the Knowing-Doing Gap (Pfeffer and Sutton, HBS Press 2000). The great ideas contained in the book lack any real, concrete action steps for successful implementation and so will rarely be successfully implemented.
    It is similar to all of the talk about innovation.Read more ›

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