Table of contents

Hungry for more Lean manufacturing knowledge, examples, and perspectives? You’re in the right place. We compiled this list of top Lean manufacturing books to help you deepen your knowledge of Lean manufacturing.

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Lean manufacturing books will give you a firm understanding of Lean production and Lean tools, such as the Kanban board shown here.
Lean manufacturing books will give you a firm understanding of Lean production and Lean tools, such as the Kanban board shown here.

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. Reading these foundational Lean manufacturing texts can help to reinforce or solidify Lean concepts, so that you can feel confident in what is or is not Lean.

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

The Machine that Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production – Toyota’s Secret Weapon in the Global Car Wars That Is Now Revolutionizing World Industry

By Jim Womack, Dan Jones, and Daniel Roos

With The Machine That Changed the World, Womack, Jones, and Roos were the first to articulate the principles of Lean manufacturing and production to a global audience. In it, they describe the history of the Toyota Production System and explain why it held such an advantage over Western manufacturing practices in a tenuous post-war economy.

When it was originally published in 1990, Toyota was showing exceptional promise as the next leader in automotive manufacturing, but it had yet to surpass the success of General Motors. Within 20 years, Toyota had grown to triumph over all other manufacturers, as the authors had predicted, and Lean had spread far beyond manufacturing, into software development, and others.

This book is regarded as a management classic, because it offered the first truly comprehensive look at the Toyota Production System, explaining in depth the advantages of the Lean approach, not just for manufacturing, but in any industry where value is created.

The most recent edition of this essential Lean manufacturing book includes a new foreword and afterword by the authors, providing context for the role Lean has played in the manufacturing industry since the book was published. It continues to provide enduring and essential guidance to leaders in every industry looking to transform their enterprises and maximize the potential of Lean.

Read this book to learn about the foundational ideas driving all Lean practices today.

Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, Revised and Updated

By Jim Womack and Dan Jones

In The Machine that Changed the World, authors Jim Womack and Dan Jones provided the first comprehensive look at the Toyota Production System–the specific practices, tools, and techniques that led Toyota to building a legacy of enduring success.

Their follow-up title, 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, the concept behind the title, underlines the importance of honing a Lean mindset. Lean thinking is the practice of adapting and applying Lean principles to daily decisions. This essential Lean manufacturing 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.

Lean Thinking arms leaders with practical guidance to help them:

  • Clearly define value in a Lean sense
  • Line up all value-adding activities (also known as mapping out a value stream)
  • Successfully implement a pull system that sustainably creates value
  • Lead cultural change in teams

This management classic is a must-read for leaders and managers looking to fully embrace Lean manufacturing in their teams.

Learning to See: Value Stream Mapping to Add Value and Eliminate Muda

By Mike Rother and John Shook, Foreword by Jim Womack and Dan Jones

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 must 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 readers 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.

Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results

Another key Lean manufacturing book by Mike Rother is Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results. The Japanese word “kata” translates to “form,” and refers to a structured way of doing things. In martial arts, it refers to a series of choreographed fundamental movements that students practice alone, to improve their consistency and perfect their execution.

In this Lean text, Rother defines kata as “a skill-building process to shift our mindset and habits from a natural tendency to jump to conclusions, to a tendency to think and act more scientifically.”

In his years of research studying the Toyota management approach, Rother found patterns in the routines of Toyota managers that helped enable continuous improvement and adaptability.

Rother explains how to improve upon traditional management practices through the practice of two types of kata:

  • The Improvement Kata: A cyclical routine of establishing target conditions, working step-by-step through challenges, and learning through problem-solving.
  • The Coaching Kata: A routine for teaching the Improvement Kata to team members so that continuous improvement occurs at every level.

This Lean management classic is invaluable for managers and leaders looking to inspire their teams to practice continuous improvement and innovate every day. In the same detailed, well-researched style as Learning to See, Rother’s second book provides managers, supervisors, and leaders with actionable routines of thought and behavior that will help to build a culture of innovation.

The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer

By Jeffrey K. Liker

In the mid-20th century, most of the Lean manufacturing books, or books discussing the Toyota Production System, 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.

This book offers the why behind each of the guiding principles that have led Toyota to its overwhelming success – and the success of those who have successfully emulated it.

The Toyota Way is a must-read for anyone looking to develop a holistic, disciplined Lean practice, or for anyone feeling underwhelmed by their own Lean implementations.

Getting the Right Things Done: A Leader’s Guide to Planning and Execution

By Pascal Dennis, foreword by Jim Womack

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.

This text, by one of the industry’s foremost experts, is an essential resource for managers, leaders, and executives looking to embrace Lean.

Lean Production Simplified: A Plain Language Guide to the World’s Most Powerful Production System (3rd Edition)

By Pascal Dennis, Foreword by John Shook

Looking for a plain-language explanation of Lean manufacturing to get everyone on your team up to speed? Lean Production Simplified is the book for you. Written by a practitioner for practitioners, this comprehensive guide to Lean is an essential resource for leaders, managers, and operators alike.

Using the analogy of a “house of Lean production,” Dennis illustrates key Lean concepts in a way that helps the reader understand the system as a whole.

He explains the storied history of Lean production, offers a comprehensive look at the Toyota way, and guides the reader through the many tools, techniques, and activities often involved in Lean manufacturing.

The third edition of this Lean manufacturing book adds expanded information on the Lean improvement process, production physics, value stream mapping, and Lean techniques for problem solving. It also provides real-world examples from companies within and beyond the world of manufacturing.

The author’s common-sense approach to Lean makes Lean Production Simplified an accessible, essential on-the-floor resource for every operator.

How to Implement Lean Manufacturing (2nd Edition)

By Lonnie Wilson

If you’re looking for a practical, hands-on guide to help you implement Lean manufacturing in an enterprise environment – this is it. In How to Implement Lean Manufacturing, author Lonnie Wilson provides a comprehensive guide to implementing Lean manufacturing: The engineering and production aspects of Lean manufacturing, as well as the business and cultural implications of implementing Lean manufacturing at scale.

Wilson explains the elements of the Toyota Production System in a way that is easy to understand, and even specifies a distinct order in which organizations should apply Lean techniques to achieve the best results.

How to Implement Lean Manufacturing is packed with detailed, real-world examples to bring Lean tools and techniques to life, including (but not limited to):

  • Cellular manufacturing
  • Goal setting
  • Continuous improvement
  • Pull systems
  • Continuous flow
  • Kaizen (continuous improvement)
  • Value stream mapping
  • Quality management
  • Production leveling
  • And more!

The second edition of this Lean manufacturing book is updated with new examples from cutting-edge Lean enterprises, and includes greater insights into Lean management practices, specifically around change management in the modern enterprise.

The Lean Six Sigma Pocket Toolbook: A Quick Reference Guide to Nearly 100 Tools for Improving Quality and Speed

By Michael L. George, John Maxey, David T. Rowlands, and Mark Price

The final title on our list of top Lean manufacturing books is the Lean Six Sigma Pocket Toolbook, a comprehensive resource detailing almost 100 Lean tools and techniques, from DMAIC and pull systems to control charts and Pareto charts.

The Lean Six Sigma Pocket Toolbook is organized with the budding practitioner in mind, organizing dozens of Lean tools and techniques by purpose and use into a uniquely practical, pocket-sized guide.

Each tool is shared with tips to help you know when, how, and why to use it, making this book a critical resource for those looking to expand and deepen their practice of Lean.

Happy Reading!

We hope that you have enjoyed reviewing this list of top Lean manufacturing books, and that it has inspired you to add a few of these titles to your reading list.