Have you been reading Lean manufacturing blogs and listening to Lean manufacturing podcasts, but still don’t feel like you have a full understanding of Lean? Although Lean manufacturing concepts are simple in theory, they’re more difficult in practice; it’s easy to confuse the true meaning of “eliminate waste,” for example, as we’ve seen in far too many organizations. It’s important to have a firm understanding of Lean manufacturing principles and the ideas behind them, so you always have a foundation of Lean thinking to stand on when challenging situations arise.

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Foundational Lean manufacturing books will give you a firm understanding of Lean manufacturing principles and the ideas behind them.
Foundational Lean manufacturing books will give you a firm understanding of Lean manufacturing principles and the ideas behind them.

Here are what we consider to be five of the most foundational Lean manufacturing books. We highly encourage you to pick one of these up (or, more realistically, download them) to deepen your understanding of Lean.

The Machine that Changed the World

This definitive Lean title by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, Daniel Roos explains the origins of Lean manufacturing, documenting the history of the Toyota Production System. In this book, Womack, Jones, and Roos describe how the Toyota Production System was born of a tenuous post-war economic environment and why it held such an advantage over Western manufacturing practices. Read this book to learn the foundational ideas driving all Lean practices today.

Lean Thinking

Also by Womack and Jones, Lean Thinking is the how to The Machine’s why; this practical guide to Lean thinking helps readers implement the Lean principles learned in The Machine That Changed the World. Lean Thinking, and the concept behind the title, underline the importance of honing a Lean mindset.

Lean thinking is the practice of adapting and applying Lean principles to daily decisions. This book serves as a practical resource for anyone looking to do just that. Through illustrative examples and clear explanations of Lean concepts, Womack and Jones provide readers with the tools needed to holistically implement Lean at the personal and team levels.

Learning to See

Value stream mapping is an invaluable tool for understanding how value flows through the organization. It’s a critical step for any organization undergoing a Lean transformation; you have to learn to see your process before you can begin optimizing it.

However, this step is not easy. Value stream mapping is a lengthy process of investigation, analysis, discussion, and design that could easily take years without structure. Successful value stream mapping requires sustained focus, intensity, and inquisitive thought across teams.

Learning to See, by Mike Rother and John Shook is a spiral-bound workbook for Lean practitioners that guides you step-by-step through the process of value stream mapping. This book would be helpful for anyone looking to infuse structure and Lean principles into their value stream mapping exercise.

The Toyota Way

In the mid-20th century, most of the literature about Lean / TPS focused on the specific practices Toyota used to achieve such a drastic advantage over its competitors. But when Western manufacturers began adopting Toyota’s practices, they produced lukewarm results.

Under further inspection, it became clear that simply adopting Lean practices without an underlying understanding of Lean principles would not produce the same sustainable and consistent results.

The Toyota Way, by Jeffrey Liker, was the first book to outline the 14 principles behind the Toyota Production System, giving Western manufacturers access to the deeper wisdom of Lean. It’s a must-read for anyone looking to develop a holistic, disciplined Lean practice.

Getting the Right Things Done

If there were one book on this list for executives, it’s Getting the Right Things Done. In this book, Pascal Dennis guides leaders through a Lean process of strategy development, one that helps them prioritize the most valuable work.

Dennis explains why and how a principled, clearly defined approach to business helps leaders maximize their value. He discusses why it’s not getting things done, but getting the right things done, that ultimately creates success.

Dennis explains why and how a principled, clearly defined approach to business helps leaders maximize their value. He discusses why it’s not getting things done, but getting the right things done, that ultimately creates success.