7 Best Lean Books Ever Written

In this article, we will rank books based on lean tools, popularity, endorsements and awards from lean leaders. And the result is the list of 7 best lean books.

The lean manufacturing concept is the result of a 5-year study project about how Toyota Motor Japan transformed its company using the Toyota Production System. The study was conducted by James P Womack at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and later published in the book "The Machine That Changed the World." The word "lean" was used to describe the manufacturing process without the 7 wastes (also known as Muda such as waiting, overproduction, transportation, inappropriate processing, unnecessary inventory, unnecessary motion or unnecessary movement, and quality issues or defects) which enabled Toyota to respond to the market and reduce the cost more effectively. Today lean manufacturing concept is behind the innovation to create radically successful business operations around the world. Even Steve Jobs was inspired by the lean manufacturing concept when he visited many factories in Japan.

Ranking Factors of Lean Books

We are requested by a reader who is a new lean manufacturing manager to suggest good books and develop a lean culture and team. In order to recommend the good lean manufacturing books to read, we search for lean manufacturing books, books about Toyota Production System, lean thinking, six sigma, and lean six sigma on Amazon.com, Goodreads.com, LinkedIn.com, News Sites and blogs related to lean manufacturing. The idea is to check how often the books about lean are mentioned to determine overall popularity. 

After that, we remove out-of-print and obsolete lean manufacturing books from the list. 

We also remove books about minor concepts such as lean product development, process development, lean software development, and lean analytics. 

Finally, we use these criteria to rank books:

- Industry Awards: We check if each book gets industry awards.

- Endorsement: We check if each book gets strong endorsements from international business leaders such as CEOs of lean organizations, top management of Fortune 500 companies, leading lean manufacturing experts, and lean managers on Amazon.com and in the "forward" section of the book.

- User Reviews: We also check user ratings on Amazon.com to determine the quality of the books.

- Editorial Decision: We carefully evaluate the actual books, apply the rating and make the final list.

We will segment the results based on types of readers such as beginners, analysts, and executives.

Pros: The goal of this book is to deliver the lean manufacturing concept in plain English. Each chapter starts with a short quote from a leading expert. Bulleted Lists are used throughout the book to emphasize important points. Charts and graphs are simple but effective.

The first chapter will introduce you to the birth of lean manufacturing. The following chapters will explain to you about important lean tools, namely, 7 wastes, 5S, visual control, A3, 5 why, and so on. A chapter about standardized work will show you the actual checksheets. The Glossary section is quite useful for someone new to the lean concept.

Cons: This book covers the most important lean tools nicely. But, you need to read books dedicated to specific lean tools so you can really implement them.

Author Credentials: Pascal Dennis is a lean manufacturing expert and an award-winning book author.

What sets it apart: It won the Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award in 2006.

Our Rating: 4.9/5

Pros: If you're familiar with the format of the “Dummies” series, you will love this book. It starts by using the first 4 chapters to introduce readers to soft skills like the basic concept, lean organization, and people aspect of lean manufacturing. The real meat starts from chapter 6 (customer value). The following chapters are used to introduce readers to lean tools and our impression is that it tries harder (than the first book on this list) to teach you how to use each tool in a step-by-step manner.

Cons: It needs more graphs and charts to explain the concept. Chapters about project management side and peole+culture side of lean should be combined.

Author Credentials: Natalie Sayer, the first author, has a Masters of Manufacturing Systems Engineering. She has a broad range of leading the implementation of lean manufacturing concept, from small businesses to Fortune 130 companies.

What sets it apart: It's written by the industry veterans.

Our Rating: 4.8/5

Pros: It's a collection of lean manufacturing + six sigma tools. Each chapter is categorized by issues/problems you want to analyze. Each tool tells you when to use it, how to use it, and some tips. We don't expect readers to read this book cover-to-cover but you can refer to it to find some ways to help you deal with the problems and pick one or two tools that are easy enough for you.

Cons: Prior knowledge of lean manufacturing + some experiences are required.

Author Credentials: Michael George, the first author, has long experience in leading the implementation of the lean six sigma program. He obtained an MBA from Southern Methodist University. He also wrote 5 books related to lean six sigma.

What sets it apart: It's the best-selling book on our list so far.

Our Rating: 4.9/5

Pros: This book will teach you how to capture the current processes of your business, gather important data, present the whole system from start to finish. After that, it will teach you how to create improvement and present the new system to relevant parties. If you really want to implement a lean manufacturing concept, learning value stream mapping is a MUST.

Cons: This is a spiral-bound book. It's been around since 1999, however, we like it more than the newer books.

Author Credentials: The first author, Mike Rother, is a lean manufacturing and value stream mapping expert. His books won the Shingo Prize Award 3 times.

What sets it apart: It won the Shingo Prize Award in 1999.

Pros: The key difference between this book and books for beginners like Lean Production Simplified or Lean for Dummies is that it tries to translate various lean tools into 14 byte-sized management concepts. So readers won't feel that they are reading a very theory-oriented book. If you're familiar with reading case studies from Harvard Business Review, you'll definitely love this book.

Cons: N/A

Author Credentials: Jeffrey Liker is an award-winning book author. He is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Michigan and a lean consultant.

What sets it apart: It won the Shingo Prize Award in 2005.

Our Rating: 5/5

Pros: Many books about lean manufacturing use examples directly from Toyota and its affiliate company but this book is not. For example, the author explains customer value via an example of a travel company, explains process maps using cola cans, or explains the flow of material using a bicycle plant. As a result, readers will get ideas of how the lean thinking concept can be implemented outside the auto industry.

Cons: The last update was 2003 but the concept is still relevant.

Author Credentials: James P. Womack is the founder of the Lean Enterprise Institute. He is the co-author of a popular book like “The Machine That Changed the World.” He received a master's degree from Harvard and Ph.D. from MIT.

What sets it apart: It won the Shingo Prize Award in 1998.

Our Rating: 5/5

Pros: In order to identify “wastes” as per lean thinking, you can't just sit inside your cubicle. What you need to do is to “go see” things for real. How hard could it be? The purpose of this book is to show you how to walk to see real problems, collect some data, interact with people and present your findings to create the improvement.

Cons: It needs more charts and graphs.

Author Credentials: He is the author of “Lean Thinking” and "The Machine That Changed the World."

What sets it apart: It's written by a “thought leader” who won Shingo Prize Award 4 times.

Our Rating: 4.9/5


- Womack, J. P., Womack, J. P., Jones, D. T., & Roos, D. (1990). Machine that changed the world. Simon and Schuster.

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International Business Book

Last review and update: December 28, 2021
All contents are written by Ben Benjabutr unless marked as [Guest Commentary]

About the Author and Editor:
Ben Benjabutr is the author and editor of SupplyChainOpz. He holds an M.Sc. in Logistics Management with 10+ years of experience in supply chain management. You can contact him via e-mail.