On Lean Production’s 25th Anniversary: Candid Reflections by Management Expert James Womack

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Gemba Walks, second edition, includes12 new articles, including one co-authored by Jim Womack, founder, Lean Enterprise Institute, and John Krafcik, president and CEO, Hyundai Motors America, who were there when” lean” got its name.

If we got ‘lean’ right, we got ‘production’ wrong. When we said production system in 1988, the world heard 'factories.'

Twenty-five years ago this fall, in an effort to explain the mounting evidence that there was a much better way to manage businesses, a team of MIT researchers shared its groundbreaking findings and a new term, “lean production,” with the world for the first time.

Now in the just-published Gemba Walks, second edition, two who were in the MIT room when lean got its name candidly share what they got right and what they got wrong.

“We still think that ‘lean’ was the best term we could have used to describe the management system we were discovering,” writes James Womack, founder, Lean Enterprise Institute, and John Krafcik, president and CEO, Hyundai Motors America in a new essay for the book.

“If we got ‘lean’ right, we got ‘production’ wrong,” they write. “When we said production system in 1988, the world heard “factories.” From the start, the researchers knew that lean production was a business system that included product development, supplier management, customer support, and general management of the enterprise, as well as manufacturing.

A New Management System Is Named
In the fall of 1988, the International Motor Vehicle Program (IMVP), a research team led by Womack that was studying global auto companies, was getting ready to publish an article authored by Krafcik, a researcher at the time. It would describe for the first time the new management system being observed at Toyota. The team needed a label. During a discussion in the IMVP team room, Krafcik suggested “lean” to describe Toyota’s system.
The Krafcik-Womack essay, “Twenty-Five Years of Lean,” and 11 other new ones by Womack are in the expanded second edition of Gemba Walks, which is on sale now. New articles include:

  • “Move Your Operations Back from China?” (Don’t offshore, don’t reshore – leanshore)
  • “Starting Up, Growing Up, and Starting Over” (Can the lean startup and lean management movements learn from each other?)
  • “Lean Government” (Should a lean thinker run for president?)
  • “Work, Management, Leadership” (What is the real work of lean leaders?)
  • “Lean Management for Healthcare” (ThedaCare shows how to work our way out of the healthcare mess.)
  • “Whatever Happened to Toyota and What Happens Next to Lean?” (The aftermath of lean poster child Toyota spinning out in 2009.)
  • Plus 5 more never-published-before essays.

In Gemba Walks, Womack draws on 30 years of experience as the pioneer in explaining lean management. In 60-plus essays, he shows how rooting continuous improvement efforts at the “gemba,” a Japanese word referring to the place where customer value is created, helps every business leader, policy maker, and anyone working earnestly in any organization re-think how to create and deliver goods or services.

Gemba Walks, second edition

  • By Jim Womack
  • Published, November 19, 2013, Lean Enterprise Institute
  • 336 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-934109-38-0
  • $30.00 (paperback)
  • Downloads and ordering: Gemba Walks
  • Media: Chet Marchwinski, LEI, cmarchwinski(at)lean(dot)org, 617-871-2930

About James Womack
Jim Womack, founder and senior advisor to the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), has pioneered the world’s understanding of what is known as lean management, a set of ideas and practices designed to create more value with higher quality while using fewer resources. Books co-authored by Womack and Daniel Jones formed the intellectual basis of LEI and broke new ground in making lean ideas understandable to a broad business audience. The best known are: The Machine That Changed the World (with Daniel Roos; Macmillan/Rawson Associates, 1990)), Lean Thinking (Simon & Schuster, 1996, 2003), Seeing The Whole: mapping the extended value stream (LEI, 2002), and Lean Solutions (Simon & Schuster, 2005), Gemba Walks (LEI, 2011). From 1975 to 1991, Womack was a full-time research scientist at MIT, directing a series of comparative studies of world manufacturing practices. As research director of MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program, Womack led the research team that coined “lean production.”

About Lean Enterprise Institute
Lean Enterprise Institute Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Cambridge, MA, makes things better through lean research, education, publishing, and conferences. Guided by a mission to advance lean thinking and practice around the world, LEI also supports other lean initiatives such as the Lean Global Network, the Lean Education Academic Network, and the Healthcare Value Network. Visit LEI at http://www.lean.org for more information.

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Chet Marchwinski
since: 02/2009
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