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Lean Management Book, Gemba Walks, by James Womack Challenges the Prevailing Management System

Cambridge, Mass., March 14, 2011 -- In the ground-breaking book Gemba Walks, leading business thinker Jim Womack shares a simple approach to business that will help every business leader, policy maker, and anyone working earnestly in any organization re-think how they go about creating value, delivering service, and fulfilling purpose. 

Drawing on 30 years of experience as the pioneer in explaining and popularizing the Lean Management System, Womack illustrates the power of rooting improvement efforts in the “gemba,” a Japanese word referring to the place where work takes place, and where value is created.

“How do we understand the gemba?” asks Womack. “And more important, how do we make it a better place—one where we can create more value with less waste, variation, and overburden?” 

Womack provides answers based on trips to countless companies where he keenly observed how people worked together to create value, while applying the critical lean management practice of: go see, ask why, and show respect.

Value-Stream Walking

For the past ten years Womack has shared his thoughts and discoveries from these trips through a monthly letter to the Lean Community. Now, in Gemba Walks, Womack has selected and re-organized his key letters, as well as written new material providing additional context. 

His book contains a wealth of insights derived from the seemingly simple process of visiting the gemba, asking questions, and showing respect. Gemba Walks shares:

  • a broader historical view of the recent events of the automobile industry, sharing fresh insight into the ascendancy  and recent troubles of Toyota, the bankruptcy of General Motors, and the events since. 
  • a new essay titled “Hopeful Hansei “on the steady forward march forward of lean thinking. 
  • a deeper understanding of the practice of lean as the most important advance in management thinking of the past 50 years, one that is fundamentally different—and fundamentally superior to the currently dominant management system. 
  • a methodology for walking value streams from beginning to end to learn the current condition and the most promising areas for improvement.

Among the gems in this book:

  • why companies need fewer heroes and more farmers—the types of managers who “work daily to improve the processes and systems needed for perfect work and who take the time and effort to produce long-term improvement.” In other words, “to provide the “steady- paced continuity at the core of every lean enterprise.” 
  • how “good” people who work in “bad” processes become as “bad” as the process itself. 
  • why the real practice of showing respect comes down to helping workers frame and solve their own problems. He sheds insight into the way that lean managers and workers solve problems as the essential activity.
  • why the lean manager has a “restless desire to continually rethink the organization’s problems, probe their root causes, and lead experiments to test the best currently known countermeasures.” 

Essay titles include the popular:

  • “Why Toyota Won and How Toyota Can Lose” (a 2007 warning: beware of rapid growth) 
  • “The Lean Way Forward at Ford” (remaking itself once again) 
  • “A Tale of Two Business Systems” (Lean management vs. modern management)
  • “The End of an Era” (Sloan’s by-the-numbers management laid to rest)
  • “Move Your Operations To China? Do Some Lean Math First” (most companies don’t understand math)
  • “Gross Domestic Product vs. Gross Domestic Waste” (count growth in customer value, not just growth)

Gemba Walks also shares Womack’s insights on topics ranging from the application of specific lean tools, to the role of management in sustaining lean, to stories that will challenge and encourage lean managers to press ahead in a new and important way of working. 

LEI Chairman and CEO John Shook notes, “Simply seeing—and communicating—lean practice is but one way that Jim Womack has inspired others. Jim gives encouragement in the real sense of the term: courage to try new things. Or to try old things in different ways. I don’t know if there’s a stronger embodiment of showing respect than offering others the courage to try.”

Gemba Walks

What is Lean?

The terms lean manufacturing, lean production, or lean management refer to a complete business system based on the Toyota Business System, for organizing and managing product development, operations, suppliers, customer relations, and the overall enterprise. 

Lean Community Resources

Join LEI’s community of Lean Thinkers at www.lean.orgto receive newsletters with lean management resources. You also get access to case studies, lean leadership executive interviews, webinars, insights from management experts John Shook and Jim Womack, and much more. 

About James Womack

Jim Womack has pioneered our understanding of what is known as lean management, a set of ideas and practices designed to create more value with higher quality while using fewer resources.  Books co-authored by Womack and Daniel Jones formed the intellectual basis of LEI and broke new ground in making lean ideas understandable to a broad audience. The best known are: The Machine That Changed the World (with Daniel Roos; Macmillan/Rawson Associates, 1990)), Lean Thinking (Simon & Schuster, 1996, 2003),  Seeing The Whole: mapping the extended value stream (LEI, 2002), and Lean Solutions (Simon & Schuster, 2005). From 1975 to 1991, Womack was a full-time research scientist at MIT, directing a series of comparative studies of world manufacturing practices. As research director of MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program, Womack led the research team that in 1987 coined “lean production.” He also is a member of the Shingo Academy.  

Lean Enterprise Institute

Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc., was founded in 1997 by management expert James P. Womack, Ph.D., as a nonprofit research, education, publishing, and conference company with a mission to advance lean thinking around the world. We teach courses, hold management seminars, write and publish books and workbooks, and organize public and private conferences. We use the surplus revenues from these activities to conduct research projects and support other lean initiatives such as the Lean Education Academic Network, the Lean Global Network and the Healthcare Value Leaders Network. Visit LEI at https://www.lean.org for more information.