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223 of 251 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2004
I'm not sure who the audience is for Lean Thinking. Call me naïve, but I assumed it was written by Womack and Jones to help organizations analyze their business processes and eliminate muda (Japanese for "waste"), thereby improving overall performance. However, after reading almost 250 pages of anecdotal success stories, the chapter entitled "Action Plan," where one would assume resides the punch-line of the text, I was met by the profound advice to "Get the knowledge" by hiring one of the numerous experts in North America, Europe or Japan, and read some of the "vast literature" available on lean techniques. Reminds me of the Steve Martin joke where he tells you how to be a millionaire. "First, get a million dollars."
After reading Lean Thinking, I'm struck by the irony that while the authors recommend removing waste from the manner by which your products are delivered to the end customer, they don't take their own advice. The text could have been distilled from 384 pages down to five or six, since there's no real substantive instruction on how to implement lean principles. Then again, maybe I completely misinterpreted the intent of the authors as to their audience and it really was written for the business historian who enjoys reading about how Pratt & Whitney started in 1855. That must be it, because after I ponder the title, I realize that Lean Thinking is for just that, thinking. What I really wanted was a book entitled Lean Doing.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
This is a new and expanded second edition of a book first published in 1996. Of special interest to me was what Womack and Jones had to say in the preface regarding what has since happened to the companies previously discussed. Apparently lean thinking has enabled Toyota, Wiremold, Porsche, Lantech, and Pratt & Whitney to sustain operational excellence and economic prosperity.
Briefly, how do Womack and Jones define lean thinking? It is the opposite of muda (a Japanese) word for anything which consumes resources without creating value. In a word, waste. Lean thinking is lean because "it provides a way to do more and more with less and less -- less human effort, less equipment, less time, and less space -- while coming closer and closer to providing customers with exactly what they want." Lean thinking is thus a process of thought, not an expedient response or a stop-gap solution. The challenge, according to Womack and Jones, is to convert muda into real, quantifiable value and the process to achieve that worthy objective requires everyone within an organization (regardless of size or nature) to be actively involved in that process. Once again, in this new edition they address questions such as these:
1. How can certain "simple, actionable principles" enable any business to create lasting value during any business conditions?
2. How can these principles be applied most effectively in real businesses, regardless of size or nature?
3. How can a relentless focus on the value stream for every product create "a true lean enterprise that optimizes the value created for the customer while minimizing time, cost, and errors"?
In Part IV, Womack and Jones update the continuing advance of of lean thinking. They rack the trend in inventory turns and the progress of their profiled companies. Also of special interest to me was the discussion of what Womack and Jones have learned since 1996 which probably explains why they introduce a new range of implementation tools support value stream mapping initiatives and thereby "to raise consciousness about value and its components, leading to action."
Obviously, even if everyone involved within a given organization is committed to lean thinking, to creating value while (and by) eliminating waste, the process requires specific strategies and tactics to succeed. Hence the importance of the last chapter in this book., "Institutionalizing the Revolution." I presume to suggest that the process of lean thinking never ends. Inevitably, success creates abundance; abundance often permits waste. I also presume to suggest that priorities must first be set so that the implementation of lean thinking process does not inadvertently create or neglect waste in areas which influence the creation of value for customers.
Although highly readable, this is not an "easy read" because it requires rigorous thinking about what is most important to a given organization, rigorous thinking about the root causes (rather than the symptoms) of that organization's problems, and rigorous thinking about the most prudent use of resources to eliminate those problems. Because of the importance of the material which Womack and Jones share, I strongly recommend that decision-makers read and then re-read this book before getting together to exchange reactions to it. Out of that discussion, I hope, will come both a collective commitment to lean thinking and the personal determination of each executive to apply what she or he has learned from this book in operational areas where waste has most diminished value.
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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
I personally do a vast amount of reading with lean enterprise being of special interest. Womack has done some great work, but this is a "tough read" even for serious lean enthusiasts. I typically finish a book of this length within 2-3 days then re-read it and highlight. It literally took me 11 weeks because I was lulled to a point in which reading further would be of no benefit and would have to put it back on the shelf and revisit it days later. I realize that scholarly and business writing is not especially exciting as I am constantly reading and doing research but this one was tough even for me, an avid reader.
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75 of 103 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 29, 2005
I think this book is largely bogus. Sure there is logic in having an efficient system to your manufacturing process and in buying the machines you actually need instead of something too big or too inflexible. But while the Japanese may have ninjas and 'Asian sexual secrets,' they haven't discovered any new principles of manufacturing that we insecure Americans didn't already know a long time ago. Despite the stylish Japanese mumbo-jumbo, there isn't much in this 'lean thinking' that Henry Ford didn't already have figured out by 1914, although the limitations of the technology of that day prevented him from implementing his ideas fully.

Speaking of Henry Ford, among the historical inaccuracies in this book is the oft-repeated untruth that all the millions of Ford Model T cars produced over 19 years were all exactly alike. The truth is that several body styles, ranging from open touring cars to 'Torpedo Roadsters' to closed sedans were produced, and the entire line went through at least two major styling changes and thousands of mechanical improvements.

Some parts of this book just don't make any sense at all, revealing amazingly poor writing on the part of the authors and -- given that this is the revised edition -- an astonishing lack of critical thinking on the part of eager readers. For example, on page 178 it is told how Pratt & Whitney replaced a particularly inefficient turbine blade grinding machine with 'eight simple three-axis grinding machines.' But in the very next paragraph they mention 'each of the nine machines,' and then go on to say, 'The number of parts in the process would fall from about 1,640 to 15 (one in each machine plus one waiting to start and one blade just completed).' Then to top it off, the text is accompanied by a diagram showing a grinding process with eight grinders and two EDM machines. I can see I'm not the only one who flunked math here.

Additionally, the book is full of stories of Japanese lean thinking gurus walking into American factories without advance notice and ordering that all the production machinery be uprooted and repositioned -- immediately. Supposedly, this is done and things brought up to running condition again in six or eight hours, with greatly improved efficiency. Where I come from, we have bothersome things like OSHA rules and the National Electrical Code that prevent us from just sliding around 100 ton presses and precision-levelled CNC machine tools like so many couches and chairs.

Also telling is the example the authors themselves picked to illustrate their concept of 'flow.' One of them asked his daughters, aged six and nine, what would be the best way to fold, address, seal, stamp and mail the monthly issue of their mother's newsletter. The girls naturally replied that you ought to concentrate on one task at a time, and process all the newsletters up to that point before moving on to the next step. But the authors assert that this is wrong, and that this type of work can be done more efficiently by carrying one workpiece through to completion before starting on the next workpiece. Aside from the cruelty of forcing his daughters to walk out to the mailbox and back 547 times, I can tell you from long experience that this is 100% pure BS. Flow is great, as Henry Ford used flow. But to make a blanket statement that it is better to keep one workpiece in hand and pick up ten tools, than it is to keep one tool in hand and pick up ten workpieces, is just plain wrong. It is the tool that requires technique and concentration and uniformity of use, not the workpiece. By spotlighting this ill-chosen example, the authors have revealed in their own introduction a total lack of real-world experience and a disdain for common sense that runs throughout the entire book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2013
While Womack and James do spread ink on essential lean principles such as the elimination of waste (muda), the value stream, and pull and flow, "Lean Thinking" is essentially a collection of case studies about companies that made the leap from traditional batch and and queue manufacturing practices to lean production methods (e.g. Doyle Wilson Homebuilder, Bumper Works, Lantech, Wiremold, Pratt and Whitney, Porsche, and Showa).

Sometimes "Lean Thinking" is saddled with criticism directed toward its high-level approach. However, understanding how other companies dealt with the lean challenge is a valuable part of the lean education.

Lean is unconventional. The lean journey is wrought with headwinds in the form of surprises, resistance, and sometimes even sabotage. People think they don't like change (the widespread use of electricity suggests otherwise) which makes the jump to a lean culture challenging. Progress along the lean journey is normally measured by two steps forward and one step back -- which can be discouraging at times. The case studies outlined in "Lean Thinking" remind the lean champion that others have been in their shoes and the result of their lean journey was a successful and more profitable business.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2007
This book provides many case studies of companies outside of the auto industry that converted to lean production. It details the personnel changes they had to make, changes in factory layout, differences in the supply chain and much more. Where "The Machine that Changed the World" was a primer to lean production, "Lean Thinking" is more of a how-to book. Together, they make a great pair and provide a fairly in-depth view of the subject. As in, "The Machine that Changed the World", there is plenty of hard data to back up the claims that these companies improved after switching to lean thinking.

I am a college student majoring in mechanical engineering and read this book and "The Machine that Changed the World" to get a broad understanding of lean production. The two books did just that and even gave me many ideas on how to convert a student organization I am involved with (SAE) to more of a lean organization. As much as possible anyway.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2009
This is the revised and updated version of the 1996 edition, however the only change is the edition of a Part IV Epilogue written in 2003.

For one of the first books to explore the concepts of Lean and the Toyota Production System (TPS) it does a fairly good job. I found Parts I - Lean Principals, III - Lean Enterprise, & IV - Epilogue most useful. Part II - From Thinking to Action: The Lean Leap, took up half of the book 170 pages of 340, to explain the lean journey of multiple companies of different sizes and cultures. While I found some of the examples to be useful, all of them were somewhat vague and very drawn out. Had I not needed to read this book for an exam, I likely would have set it down during this part and not picked it up again.

My favorite chapter in the book is Chapter 13: Dreaming about Perfection in Part III. The author takes 5 common activities and "dreams" about how they would operate if they were truly lean. Not just by implementing various tools and techniques but by truly revolutionizing them from the perspective of the customer. It really drove home what breakthrough concepts or paradigm shifts look like.

Overall I would recommend The Toyota Way over this book as a broad overview of what the concept of Lean is.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2006
Lean Thinking is the second of the lean books from Womack and Jones. First was "the machine that changed the world", which changed my way of thinking. Lean Thinking picks up where "the machine" left and tries to abstract the learning from "the machine" into 5 values of lean. The 5 values are "Value, Value Stream, Pull, Flow and Perfection". By abstracting these values, Womack and Jones enable the lean manufactuing ideas to be used in different industries, which is exactly what happened. That makes this book a landmark book that maybe changed the world even more than their first book.

The book itself is a nice and very very easy read. The authors get to the point, their explanation is clear and their stories made me enjoy the book very much. All in all, an excellent book and a absolute must read for anyone interested in lean, in whatever industry.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Would you like to double productivity, cut development time by 60%, reduce inventory by 65%, reduce throughput time by 95%, reduce capital investment while doubling sales? Pre-existing assets, technologies, practices, organizations and concepts often cause enormous waste, i.e. activity which does not create value. This exciting book is about a way to do more and more with less and less - to create value instead of waste.
Lean Principles
1. Accurately understand VALUE (needs and preferences) from the customer's perspective.
2. Perform VALUE STREAM analysis. This will reveal three types of actions: 1) those that create value, 2) those that do not create value but are unavoidable in the present situation and 3) those that don't create value and are immediately avoidable.
3. After eliminating avoidable waste activities, make the remaining activities continuously FLOW. This requires the elimination of departmentalized "high speed" batch-and-queue "efficiency". It requires quick changeovers, "right-sizing" and close coupling of operations without buffers. The authors state that the results are always a dramatic reduction of effort and improvement in throughput.
4. Because of the radical reduction achieved in throughput time, you now are capable of Just In Time operations. You can now let the customer PULL the product.
5. Finally search for PERFECTION. Perfection is, of course, impossible. But the effort compels progress.
"Just Do It"
The lean approach is to "just do it" with dedicated cross functional product teams which often include suppliers and customers.
The beauty of this system is that it won't work at all unless everything works properly all the time. Thus 100% performance becomes an absolute requirement.
The authors present a number of very interesting case studies in which dramatic results were obtained. They conclude with advice as to how to get started - including a list of available resources. This book is especially well-suited to operations managers, but will also benefit any executive in a company that relies upon operational excellence as a part of their strategy.
(Robert Bradford is CEO of Center for Simplified Strategic Planning and co-author of Simplified Strategic Planning)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2012
If you've ever come across the term "lean" and don't fully understand it, READ THIS BOOK! It is the theory (you'll have to read other books later to apply it), but you'll gain a perfect understanding of what it is about and also the origins and relations to more recent software development techniques such as agile (SCRUM, Kanban, etc). Also, you will be able to apply the Lean Startup methodology much better if you undstand the lean principles. Go, go, go!
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