Learning Lean, Lean Learning - Desert Island Lean Articles

Back in January 2015 I wrote a short article about my favourite Lean books. In the style of “Desert Island Discs”, the radio programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4, I selected the Lean books I’d take to be cast away on a desert island. The rationale for the choices is that each of these books is particularly useful for part(s) of the Lean Transformation Framework

Lean Learning Learning Lean Desert Island Lean Articles

Prompted by the theme for our 2016 UK Lean Summit, “Lean Learning, Learning Lean,” I was reflecting on how each of us learns and how we can use resources such as articles as part of our ongoing development. In the same way that I attempted to think about the vital few books to read what would the vital few articles be?

I always like to go back to source material so I’d start by reading the classics. Whilst the term Lean was coined in the book the Machine that Changed the World, the first English paper that I’ve found on the subject was published in 1977 titled “Toyota Production System and Kanban System: Materialization of Just-in-Time and Respect-for-Human System(1). The paper succinctly decribes two major distinctive features. Firstly, “just-in-time” where only the necessary products, at the necessary time, in necessary quantity are manufactured. Secondly, the “respect-for-human” system where workers are allowed to display in full their capabilities through active participation in running and improving their own workplace. By the way, one of the authors of the article was a certain Fujio Cho who later became Chairman of Toyota. My second “classic” article was published in 1994 by Jim Womack and Dan Jones. “From Lean Production to Lean Enterprise(2) . It’s a vital piece of history and illustrates the thinking that the ideas used in production can be extended beyond that area.

Next, I’d read about the generic Lean Thinking principles. Jim Womack and Dan Jones explain these in “Beyond Toyota:
 How to Root Out Waste and Pursue Perfection(3). A good companion article to this is Jim Womack’s “Purpose, Process, People(4) article. Both can help an organization understand their value driven purpose before going on to define the problem(s) they are trying to solve. A useful article in this regard is John Shook’s “Toyota’s Secret: The A3 Report(5) – An A3 article about A3s!

To help with operational improvement the choice becomes more situational (depending upon your environment.) To understand the value stream and what we can learn I’d read “What Are We Learning Since We Started Learning to See?(6) by Mike Rother, to understand flow I’d read “Don’t be Fooled by Fake Flow(7) by Rick Harris and for pull I’d read “Connecting Assembly with Batch Processes Via Basic Pull Systems(8) by Art Smalley. If the problem called for looking at the supply chain “Any color you want except tuxedo black(9) by John Shook explains the key concepts..

Less has been written around capability development. However the article “Lean Leadership Lesson: First thing: Grasp the Situation; Last thing, Grasp the Situation(10) is a good start, as is the description about Training Within Industry(11) by Jim Huntzinger .

Over recent years there have been a number of articles on Lean Management Systems and the Lean Leadership Behaviours. In the first instance I would read Jim Womack’s article “The Mind of the Lean Manager(12). I’d also read Dan Jones’ “How Lean are You?(13) I’d take the opportunity to look at Jeff Liker’s article on “Developing Leaders the Kata Way” (14) and read Steven Spear’s “Learning to Lead at Toyota(15).

A number of the texts already mentioned contain basic thinking – the assumptions and mindset that underlies the entire system – and drives the transformation. This is about the basic beliefs we, as individuals have about the way the world works. These beliefs and mindset constitute the culture of the organisation. I’d add a few more articles here – Art Smalley’s “Eight Basic Questions of TPS(16) is an excellent read. “How do I quantify kaizen’s small improvements?(17) by Michael Balle is thought provoking and “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System(18) contains great insight.

What’s the point of such an article? Well one purpose is that it is part of personal reflection – these are a few of the articles that I keep and refer back to or use to help others. There are others too – I was trying to stop at 12 but found it impossible! These (and a few others) are the ones I’d take to a Desert Island.

The other reason is to spark debate. We are all trying to learn Lean and learn it in the most effective way which, by the way, is by doing not by reading! Engaging and aligning people is more complicated than just doing and reading is certainly important in that regard. I’m sure you will have your own list that you can share.


David Brunt

P.S. Additionally you might also think about the process with which you use any of the knowledge that’s been created – we are certainly going to explore this at our forthcoming Summit in November. I hope to see you there.


  1. Y. Sugimori, K. Kusunoki, F. Cho & S. Uchikawa (1977) "Toyota production system and Kanban system Materialization of just-in-time and respect- for-human system", International Journal of Production Research, 15:6, 553-564, DOI: 10.1080/00207547708943149
  2. Womack, J. P. & Jones, D. T. "From Lean Production to Lean Enterprise", Harvard Business Review, March-April 1994, pp. 93-103.
  3. Womack, J. P. & Jones, D. T. "Beyond Toyota:
 How to Root Out Waste and Pursue Perfection", Harvard Business Review, September-October 1996, pp. 4-16.
  4. Womack, J. P. "Purpose, Process, People", Lean.org, December 2006. 
  5. Shook, J.S. "Toyota’s Secret: The A3 Report" MIT Sloan Management Review, Summer 2009, pp. 30-33.
  6. Rother, M. "What Are We Learning Since We Started Learning to See?" Lean.org, February 2006. 
  7. Harris, R. "Don’t be Fooled by Fake Flow" IIE Solutions Magazine, December 2001, pp. 24-29. 
  8. Smalley, A. "Connecting Assembly with Batch Processes Via Basic Pull Systems" Lean.org, January 2004. 
  9. Shook, J.S. "Any color you want except tuxedo black", Lean.org, April 2011. 
  10. Shook, J.S. “Lean Leadership Lesson: First thing: Grasp the Situation; Last thing, Grasp the Situation,” Lean.org, February 2013. 
  11. Huntzinger, J. “Why Standard Work is not Standard: Training Within Industry Provides an Answer,” Target, Volume 22, No. 4, 2006, pp. 7-13.
  12. Womack, J.P. “The Mind of the Lean manager,” Lean.org, July 2009. 
  13. Jones, D.T. “How Lean Are You?” Leanuk.org April 2004. 
  14. Liker, J. “Developing Leaders the Toyota Kata Way,” The Leadership Network.com, August 2015. 
  15. Spear, S. “Learning to Lead at Toyota,” Harvard Business Review, May 2004, pp. 1-10.
  16. Smalley, A. “Eight Basic Questions of TPS,” ArtofLean.com 
  17. Balle, M. “How do I quantify kaizen’s small improvements?" Lean.org, January 2016. 
  18. Spear, S and Bowen, H.K "Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System", Harvard Business Review, September-October 1999, pp. 96-106.