I’m going to share a secret with you. Growing up, I always dreamed of owning a bookstore. Actually, I still do. Not one of the big-chain behemoths located in a busy shopping mall smack dab in the middle of suburbia. No way! I wanted a small, cozy shop somewhere off the beaten path, where customers could curl up with a good book and a hot cup of coffee. A place that people would go to learn something that inspired them, to have a good conversation with a complete stranger, or just to escape the stress of daily life . . . even if only for a little while. That’s my True North.
Today, I’ve taken the first step in that direction by creating The Lean Book Shop @ TheKaiZone. Although there’s no caffeine and the ambiance leaves much to be desired, I can promise you that the selection cannot be beat!
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of books out there related to the topics of Lean and continuous improvement. I know because I’ve spent a good majority of my adult life reading most of them. Unfortunately, the vast majority are frankly not very good. There are many self-proclaimed “senseis” out there claiming to have unlocked the secrets to Lean success . In reality, these so-called “experts” are nothing more than Lean consultants with very little proven, real-world success re-packaging outdated and ineffective approaches as the next best thing. As Mark Graban says, that”s L.A.M.E. not Lean.
Good Lean advice can be hard to find. It’s especially daunting for those just starting off on their Lean journey. I’ve seen it many times. One bad source and the path starts off completely in the wrong direction. Instead of pursuing True North, you may find yourself here.
This is where The Lean Book Shop can help. I’ve personally hand-selected what I consider to be the absolute best texts ever written on the subjects of Lean and Continuous Improvement. I’ve personally read every book in the shop and I stand behind each one. You won’t find every Lean and continuous improvement book – for example: this, this or this – just those that I know you can trust to help you on your learning journey.
Speaking of trust, I want to fully disclose that I have partnered with Amazon.com* as part of their affiliate advertising program to bring you The Lean Book Shop. Any link to books referenced on this page, or other pages on TheKaiZone.com, will refer you to Amazon.com, where you get the exact same purchase price as all other amazon.com users do. Please refer to the About Me page for further details.
To celebrate the grand opening of The Lean Book Shop @ TheKaiZone, I’ve put together a top 10 list of the best books ever written on the topics of Lean and continuous improvement. I define “best” in terms of the book’s contribution (the degree to which I feel the book has contributed to current thinking within the Lean world) and relevance (the degree to which I find myself referring back to the text on my own Lean journey).
Note that the list simply represents my own personal opinions and preferences. Your list will likely be different and I encourage you to share it with The KaiZone Community in the comments section below!
Drum roll, please! Without further ado, I present to you the top 10 Lean books of all time:
10. Creating a Kaizen Culture (2013) by Jon Miller, Mike Wroblewski and Jaime Villafuerte
Kaizen. Culture. Adaptiveness. Words that are not easy to define in tangible terms, and even more difficult to achieve or impact in the real-world. However, Creating a Kaizen Culture takes these concepts out of the nebulous world and provides practical, tangible guidance for changing the most important pieces of the Lean organization . . . the people.
9. Gemba Kaizen (1997) by Masaaki Imai
With the publication of his book Kaizen in 1986, Masaaki Imai brought the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement to light. In the sequel, Gemba Kaizen, Mr. Imai enlightens the world to another core Lean concept: the gemba. By combining a focus on incremental, small improvements with a thorough understanding of “the real place”, the book has contributed significantly to the mindset of the present-day Lean thinker. As a bonus, the text includes several case studies from real-world application of the gemba kaizen approach.
8. The Lean Turnaround (2012) by Art Byrne
Very few people on the planet can claim the level of real-world Lean success that Art Byrne can. Perhaps, no other book provides such a deep dive into the strategic nature of Lean or the role of senior leaders in driving change. Certainly, none that can back up the theory and discussion with such dramatic and concrete results as Mr. Byrne and his time spent as CEO of Wiremold. This book is a must-read for any executive looking to create and sustain a successful Lean organization.
7. The High-Velocity Edge (formerly Chasing the Rabbit, 2008) by Steven Spear
What sets dynamic organizations apart from their competition? From the same author that wrote the seminal article Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System, Steven Spear goes beyond the tangible and the technical to uncover the underlying capabilities of high-velocity organizations. Through direct observation of successful organizations such as Toyota, Alcoa and the United States Nuclear Navy, Spear identifies the four critical factors that fuel the continuous improvement of today’s complex systems: system design, problem solving, knowledge sharing and people development.
6. The Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production (1988) by Taiichi Ohno
An view of the historical rise of Toyota manufacturing through the eyes of its primary contributor: Mr. Taiichi Ohno. Outlining the important social and economic forces that drove the creation of what we now dub the Toyota Production System, the book focuses primarily on the history and the thinking from which the system evolved. That the book does not provide a deep dive in to the technical aspects of the system is irrelevant, as it subtly teaches a much greater lesson to present day Lean thinkers: Lean organizations can learn – and profit – much more from Toyota by focusing on the thinking that created the system than they can by copying the system itself.
5. The Machine that Changed the World (1990) by James Womack, Daniel Jones and Daniel Roos
The book that coined the term “Lean” based on the outcomes of more than 5 years of study of the Japanese automobile industry by MIT. Womack, Jones and Roos thoroughly document the whole of the Toyota Production System, pinpoint the advantages of Lean manufacturing over the prevailing mass-production system used in the western world at the time, and correctly predicted the rise of Lean manufacturing principles, not just in automobile manufacturing, but in any value-creating endeavor.
4. Out of the Crisis (1986) by W. Edwards Deming
Although not necessarily Lean-centric, in Out of the Crisis, Dr. Deming provides the foundation for many core components of Lean management systems. Deming uses his now infamous 14 Points to implore management to place long-term sustainability ahead of meeting short-term financial incentives through increasing product quality and by involving all employees in the efforts to transform the organization. Sound familiar? Also, the book represents the first appearance in print of the primary framework for Lean problem solving: the Shewhart Cycle, also known as Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA).
3. The Toyota Way (2003) by Jeffrey Liker
Prior to the publication of the Toyota Way, the vast majority of the Lean literature focused on describing the tangible, technical aspects of the Toyota Production System. Without understanding the accompanying business philosophies and management principles, most organizations that attempted to mimic Toyota failed to generate the same – if any – level of results. In The Toyota Way, Dr. Liker shifted the focus away from superficial tools and techniques of the production system and onto the 14 key principles that define the Toyota style of management. In doing so, the book was the first to articulate the true source of Toyota’s success in a format available and understandable to the masses.
2. A Study of the Toyota Production System: From an Industrial Engineering Viewpoint (1st english translation 1980, re-translated 1989) by Shigeo Shingo**
The now famous “green book” that started it all. With this book, Dr. Shingo provides the master study of all aspects of the production system dubbed “just-in-time”. Nearly a decade before the publication of The Machine the Changed the World, the book was the first text translated into English to discuss many of the concepts of the Toyota Production System such as poka-yoke (mistake-proofing), heijunka (leveling), standardized work, and the 7 wastes.
1. Toyota Kata (2009) by Mike Rother
This may not be the best book with which to start your Lean journey, but it is certainly the direction you should head in which to finish. Only those who have struggled to find Lean success will fully appreciate the power of the kata methodology. Of all the texts on Lean and continuous improvement, Toyota Kata achieves what no other book before it has fully accomplished: translating Lean into a set of simple, practical routines, organized around improvement and coaching, that can be readily and effectively practiced at all levels of an organization. Rother cuts down many long-standing fallacies about the practice of Lean, such as the misunderstanding of common Lean “tools” and the misconception of waste elimination. In doing so, Mr. Rother places the focus right where it should be: on the development every person in the organization through a habit of problem solving and the achievement of continuous improvement.
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There you have it! The Top 10 Lean books of all time, as determined by The KaiZone. Disagree? Then let us know! Please use the comments section below to share your own personal top 10!
And don’t forget to check out The Lean Book Shop @ TheKaiZone for all of your Lean, continuous improvement and self improvement needs!
* Disclosure: TheKaiZone.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.