Top 5 Lean Manufacturing Books for Beginners

From time to time we get e-mails asking for recommendations on books or articles to read for people who are just starting out learning about Lean manufacturing and how the Toyota Production System applies to their business. The reading list section of our website sorely needs to be updated, as there have been many good books on Lean in the past years.
I have not read many of the new books on Lean. I am still finding delight in the old books. Here are my top 5 lean manufacturing books for beginners:
1. Of course at the top of my list is Taiichi Ohno’s Gemba Keiei. This is the Japanese version, not the out-of-print English translation, or the new translation which we are working on currently. This one book teaches a lot of valuable lessons.
2.The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer by Jeffrey Liker does a great job of telling through stories and illustrations who Toyota is today and covering a broad range of beliefs, principles, mindsets, tools and behaviors that make them a great company. The Toyota Way Fieldbook is a companion to this that I personally found a bit disorienting at times, perhaps it attempts to serve too diverse an audience or serve as a field book for too wide a set of ideas, but it is a solid reference.
3.Toyota Production System by Yasuhiro Monden. This book covering the theory and nuts and bolts is by a Japanese professor who has had a long relationship with people at Toyota, thinks clearly and writes well. It’s not a quick or easy read, but worth reading until you understand it.
4.Today and Tomorrow by Henry Ford is more than just an antidote to the heavy emphasis on Toyota and Japanese authors. Ford is a genius and has some genuinely great insights in this book. This is one of the starting points of Lean thinking and it is important to read Ford with an open mind, as eagerly as we might read the exciting bestseller business books of the moment.
5.The Sayings of Shigeo Shingo by Shigeo Shingo is interesting because it helps get us in the mind of one of the most important industrial engineers of the last half century and a vital contributor to the development of Lean manufacturing, and because most of his techniques have been explained better by later authors who learned from him. The reading can be awkward at times due to the translation but the ideas come through clearly and is worthwhile.
These five may not be a good place to start for everyone. It depends on what your role and goal are. I certainly don’t mean to snub any of the authors who have made valuable contributions to the understanding of the Toyota Production System, but these are the top 5 for the moment.
What are the top 5 Lean manufacturing books that you recommend to people who are starting out? What is your latest favorite? What is the one book you would tell someone to read to learn more about Lean?
Share your thoughts in the comment section below. I am sure there are many people who read this who would appreciate them.

10 Comments

  1. Shawn

    January 5, 2007 - 7:44 am

    For managers, I would recommend ‘Better Thinking, Better Results’ by Emiliani.
    For those wanting a history of Lean with no punches pulled, I would recommend ‘Rebirth of American Industry’ by Bill Waddell.
    For those in the factory, I enjoyed “The Lean Enterprise Memory Jogger” by Goal/QPC. It fits in my pocket and is a wonderful quick reference guide.
    I enjoyed Toyota Way more than any of these because it repeats over and over the two pillars – continuous improvement AND respect for people.

  2. J. Wilson

    January 5, 2007 - 9:40 am

    If I was putting together a top 5, it would probably look much the same as yours:
    1. Ohno’s Workplace Management – Without overstating things, this book changed my life. If I could read Japanese, I probably would have cited that version as well.
    2. Toyota Way – A bit overwhelming and academic at times, but still without equal.
    3. Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean – Fantastic book that is simplified, without being diluted, and has a solid background for all types of industries.
    4. Ford’s Today and Tomorrow – For anyone that hasn’t read this, you will be absolutely blown away at some of the things that were written. And probably a little nauseous that so much of the spirit of what he wrote was ignored.
    5. Ohno’s Toyota Production System – If only because I much more enjoy Ohno’s viewpoint than Shingo’s.
    My least favorite is a book titled, “Who Hollered Fore.”

  3. Jon Miller

    January 5, 2007 - 10:35 am

    Thanks for this clarification. It seems Amazon.com does not sell this new version of Today and Tomorrow by Henry Ford.

  4. Timothy

    January 8, 2007 - 9:43 pm

    It’s not specifically about lean, but puts a great social and historical context around the origins of TPS and emphasizes the parts of TPS that are outside the factory proper: R&D and sales: The Machine That Changed the World, by James Womack.

  5. Simon

    April 22, 2007 - 1:55 pm

    I’m at my last university year of mechanical engineering and I’m a beginner in lean manufacturing. I had just a little introduction to it in one class. However, I’m really interested by lean manufacturing. What book would you suggest me as a start??? Something that would help me in my first steps in industries…

  6. Jon Miller

    April 22, 2007 - 6:57 pm

    Hi Simon,
    To get familiar with Lean manufacturing, Lean Thinking by James Womack is a good start. The new edition is available in paperback. The Toyota Way is a good second book to give you a deeper understanding.

  7. J Tomac

    May 2, 2007 - 8:16 am

    Hi Simon,
    Lean Thinking is a good choice, another one I highly recommend that teaches the principles in a story format is “Gold Mine” by Freddy Balle’.

  8. Josh

    March 5, 2008 - 11:09 am

    I’m fascinated by the lean and even worked a project on lean for an intern. I’d like to start a book so I can get deeper understand. I know Womack has done a lot with lean, but which one should i read first? the machine that changed the world OR lean thinking? I believe machine changed the world came out first, so that seems logically choice. please help. thanks!

  9. Jon Miller

    March 6, 2008 - 1:51 pm

    Hi Josh. I would recommend Lean Thinking by Womack for beginners. The Toyota Way is also good and very readable, and will give you a deeper understanding of TPS. You might also try Lean for Dummies, which I have reviewed in the Book Review section above.