The Birth of Lean

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Captures the insights of early Toyota leaders through interviews with Taiichi Ohno, Eiji Toyoda and others


ISBN: 978-1934109229

Published: March 2009

Author: Koichi Shimokawa, Takahiro Fujimoto

Pages: 300

Publisher: Lean Enterprise Institute


There are a lot of books that describe the Toyota Production System, but most do so in a way that implies that there was a master plan to create a company-wide improvement system. But as the pioneers in The Birth of Lean explain, there was no master plan—TPS came about through experimentation, trial and error, and an evolution of ideas that shaped Toyota’s structure and management system.

This is an honest look at the origins of lean, written in the words of the people who created the system. Through interviews and annotated talks, you will hear first-person accounts of what these innovators and problem-solvers did and why they did it. You’ll read rare, personal commentaries that explain the interplay of (sometimes opposing) ideas that created a revolution in thinking.

In The Birth of Lean, you’ll get a glimpse inside the minds and thought processes of the system’s creators and innovators:

  • Taiichi Ohno—the man who envisioned a way of working that would evolve into the Toyota Production System
  • Eiji Toyoda—the former Toyota President and Chairman who oversaw the development of TPS and the inclusion of TQC at Toyota
  • Kikuo Suzumura—the Toyota manager recognized as the most influential in translating Ohno’s ideas into actionable items
  • Michikazu Tanaka—the manager and executive at Toyota affiliate Daihatsu who adapted TPS to his organization
  • Kaneyoshi Kusunoki—the former head of Toyota’s production engineering organization who refined the buffering system in use in Toyota’s operations
  • Masao Nemoto—the Toyota executive central to the deployment of TQC at Toyota

In this English translation of a previously published Japanese book, you’ll hear the words of the people who created the countermeasures that Toyota devised to address issues as they arose—countermeasures that they continue to use and adapt today. By understanding that the great minds that developed such a powerful system started with simple experiments, you’ll be encouraged to begin your own experiments and transform your organization.

About the Editors

Koichi Shimokawa
Koichi Shimokawa is a leading authority on the automobile industry. He is a professor in the Faculty of Business Administration at Tokai Gakuen University and a professor emeritus at Hosei University. Shimokawa was a member of Hosei University’s Faculty of Business Administration from 1969 to 1999, and he previously taught at the University of Toyama. He holds a doctorate in economics from Kyushu University and studied at the Harvard Business School for two years in the late 1970s. Shimokawa’s research on the automobile industry centers on supply- chain management in a global context, on e-business models, on cross-border alliances and mergers, and on issues and opportunities in emerging markets. Shimokawa has authored and coauthored numerous books, including Ushinawareta Junen [Japan’s Lost Decade] (Tokyo: Chuko Shinsho, 2006); Joho Kakumei to Jidosha Ryutu Inobeshon [The Information Revolution and Innovation in Automobile Distribution] (Tokyo: Bunshindo, 2000), with Takao Iwasawa; The Japanese Automobile Industry: A Business History (London: Athlone Press, 1994); and Transforming Automobile Assembly (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1997), with Takahiro Fujimoto and Ulrich Juergens.

Takahiro Fujimoto
Takahiro Fujimoto has been a professor in the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Economics since 1998 and has headed the university’s Manufacturing Management Research Center since 2003. A 1979 graduate of the University of Tokyo, Fujimoto earned a doctorate in economics from the Harvard Business School in 1989 and subsequently worked at Harvard as a researcher, as a visiting professor (1996–97), and as a senior research associate (1997). He has served as a visiting professor at the University of Lyon and as a visiting researcher at INSEAD. Fujimoto’s research centers on technology and operations management and on business administration. Among the books by Fujimoto are Product Development Performance: Strategy, Organization, and Management in the World Auto Industry (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1991), with Kim Clark; The Evolution of a Manufacturing System at Toyota (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); and Competing to Be Really, Really Good (Tokyo: I-House Press, 2007).

About the Translators

Waku Miller
Waku Miller works as a writer and translator in Japan, where he has lived for 30 years. He has handled the Japanese-to-English translation of several books, including Takahiro Fujimoto’s Competing to Be Really, Really Good. He is translating selections from the Buddhist monk Eihei Dogen’s Shobogenzo [Insight] and is writing a biography of the Bizen potter Anjin Abe.

John Shook
John Shook worked for Toyota for 11 years, starting in 1983, and became the first non-Asian to work his way up through the company’s ranks to a management position in Japan. His work at Toyota included creating training materials for the company’s first vehicle-manufacturing operation in North America. John has authored the lean classic Learning to See (Cambridge: Lean Enterprise Institute, 1999), with Mike Rother; Managing to Learn (Cambridge: Lean Enterprise Institute, 2008); and Kaizen Express (Cambridge: Lean Enterprise Institute, 2009), with Toshiko Narusawa. In 2010 John succeeded Jim Womack as the CEO of Lean Enterprise Institute.

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Additional information

Weight .58 kg

Lean Enterprise Institute