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.