Planet Lean: The Official online magazine of the Lean Global Network
The community comments on the Lean Thinking book

The community comments on the Lean Thinking book

Planet Lean
September 19, 2016

FEATURE – It’s Lean Thinking week and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the publication of the book, we have asked a few people from the lean community what it meant to them.

Juan Antonio Tena photograph
Juan Antonio Tena, CEO, 365.café – Barcelona, Spain

“When I read Lean Thinking, it was immediately clear to me that was how I wanted my organization to think. At first the book represented something of a shock for me. It forced me to ask myself what we were doing – which is never easy – and convinced me that was the change I wanted for my company. We have been implementing the ideas explained in the book for years now, and we have no choice but to keep doing so… lean has become our way of thinking.”


Lean Thinking was one of the first lean books I read (along with The Toyota Way and The Machine that Changed the World). I found the book very inspirational as it told me that lean is not only applicable to automotive, but to every industry. It is written in a report style and you need to read between the lines to understand the true impact that lean is having in these different industries. My favourite part of the book is when the Porsche rolls off the production line and for the first time in the company’s history the Quality Inspectors have nothing to fix – an amazing achievement, only possible with lean thinking.”

James Sandfield, Lean Manager, Nestlé – Frankfurt, Germany


Alec Steel photograph
Alec Steel, Head of Operations and Process Management, National Audit Office – London, UK

“It is not often that a book inspires you to take action. With Lean Thinking, it is the thinking part that has motivated me. The examples of taking lean principles outside a traditional manufacturing environment made me wonder how they could apply to public service. Without this book, I wouldn't have had the courage to study public services in such a detailed way. I am still learning. Thanks!”


“Lean Thinking was – and still is - an inspirational revelation. Full of stories and examples from so many companies in different industries, it shows how lean was not just a Japanese or even a Toyota phenomenon. It gave me the confidence to continue applying lean concepts and principles, often against considerable resistance despite the improvements achieved. I know there are many people like me that this book helped in the same way. It was hearing about what real people in real companies had done – not always successfully – that brought lean concepts to life as something that could be done with amazing results. At the launch event of the book, Dan and Jim had their own amusing lean application… everyone was presented with a copy with a personalized cover – a practical example of one piece flow.”

Ian Glenday, lean coach and author – United Kingdom


“Lean Thinking may not be the first book I read about lean, but it certainly was the one that made it clear to me that I was on the right path!”

Osvaldo Spadano, CEO, Elastera – London, UK


Leyla Is photograph
Leyla Is, Concept Manager/Business & Process Developer, Nässjö Näringsliv - Sweden

Lean Thinking expanded my understanding of customer value (both internally and externally). Based on the lessons and theory in the book, I ran two major projects at the logistics company I used to work for, which focused on value stream and production efficiency. The successful outcome changed our organizational attitude towards continuous improvements and lean, and it engaged people working in several non-manufacturing processes and units. It taught us how the customer thinks, how we can identify waste, and how we can see the whole picture as the value stream level.”


“With this great book, Jim Womack and Dan Jones have institutionalized and popularized lean, as a term and as a philosophy. Lean Thinking introduced me to the wonderful world of simple efficiency, and introduced a quality culture where inspection is considered waste. The book shaped my career and I am happy I read it.”

Jugnu Verma, AVP, Change Manager Compliance, Deutsche Bank - Bengaluru, India


Michael Ballé photograph
Michael Ballé, executives coach, author and co-founder of Institut Lean France – Paris, France

Lean Thinking is one of the most important business books ever written. Although we couldn’t see it at the time, it marked a fundamental shift in the tide of business: the structural change from competing in growth markets to competing in saturated markets. Lean Thinking is the first bestseller to break away from Porter’s dominant model of value being created by external forces to one that touches every business in today’s zero-growth world where value is created internally, through the thinking and improving of every employee.

When it came out, I had been studying what Toyota was teaching a supplier for a couple of years, and Lean Thinking helped me frame what I had so far seen as a bag of clever kaizen tricks. In hindsight, we now see that the book mostly addresses getting into just-in-time conditions and that “lean thinking” really occurs at step 5: seeking perfection. However, the first four steps represent the way companies need to make the life-saving transition from the military “conquer markets” mindset to the 21st-century value-based view of growing one’s customer base by seeking “customer smiles from employee smiles.”

Twenty years later I have the luck and privilege to work with the authors to continue to explore what the “thinking” in Lean Thinking really means, and seeing the depth of lean’s potential as a learning technology rather than an organizational one. The deeper we dig, the more we find it was all already there, in the lean pioneers’ experiences described in the book, which remains to this day the best place to start one’s own personal transformation towards thinking lean.”


What did Lean Thinking mean to you?

Join the conversation in the comments below!


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