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Lean Management Expert Tells Management Accountants to “Take a Walk”

Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 21, 2011 -- Accountants should take a walk – a “gemba” walk, according to James Womack, founder and senior advisor at the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), a Cambridge, MA-based nonprofit research, education, publishing, and conference company.

Gemba is a Japanese word referring to the place where work happens and where value is created. A gemba walk is a methodology for walking a company’s value streams from beginning to end to learn the current condition and find the most promising areas for improvement.

"Accountants should learn to talk a gemba walk to see the difference between value-creating activities and those that only create waste," Womack told roughly 275 financial managers and executives during his keynote presentation at the seventh annual Lean Accounting Summit, Sept. 15, Orlando, FL.

"Then they should ask whether the financial metrics and measures they are using encourage managers to create more value or whether they actually motivate wasteful activities, such as running machines to achieve asset utilization goals while making inventory no customer wants."

New Lean Book

Womack added that the goal of the lean accounting movement should be to do “the least possible counting” since no customer thinks accounting is valuable. Customers want products and services that work, are cost efficient, and, most importantly, solve their problems, he noted.

“I have never bought a product and asked, ‘Is there a lot of accounting in this product? If there is a lot of accounting in it, I’d like to pay more.’”

You can see Jim's slides on "lean counting" from the Lean Accounting Summit.

Womack, who visits as many as 50 companies annually, shared his thoughts and discoveries from these walks in essays collected in Gemba Walks (Lean Enterprise Institute, 2011), his latest book.

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The Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc. was founded in 1997 by management expert James P. Womack, Ph.D., with a nonprofit 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.