Lean Blog — 499: Jim Womack’s Observations and Reflections on the Evolution of Lean

My guest for Episode #499 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is James P. Womack. Jim really needs no introduction for this audience, he’s the founder of the Lean Enterprise Institute (in 1987) and remains a senior advisor to them.

Episode page with transcript and more

In the late eighties, he and Dan Jones led MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Research Program (IMVP), which introduced the term “lean” to describe Toyota’s revolutionary management system.

Based on that research, Womack coauthored The Machine That Changed the World (Macmillan/Rawson Associates, 1990), Lean Thinking (Simon & Schuster, 1996), Lean Solutions (Simon & Schuster, 2005), and Seeing the Whole Value Stream (Lean Enterprise Institute, 2011).  

Jim was really gracious and helpful to me in being an early guest on this podcast, going back to Episode 12 in late 2006 when we talked about Lean in China. Today is his 8th appearance on the podcast: 7 times solo and once last September as part of a group that did a post-game show with me after the GE Lean Mindset event.

I’ve seen and talked with Jim many times over the past decade, so it’s totally my fault that I haven’t had him on since 2011. When I asked him to come back to help celebrate 500 episodes, he quickly agreed — and I’ll have him back again much sooner than this last gap between appearances.

In today’s episode, Jim shares reflections and stories on a number of companies, countries, and topics, including:

  • China and Vietnam
  • GM, Toyota, Boeing, Danaher, Rivian, and Tesa

And he answers some questions that were suggested by LinkedIn commenters.

Questions, Notes, and Highlights:

  • I think listeners would love to know what keeps you busy these days in the world of Lean?
  • Planet Lean – celebrating 10 years
  • A few people asked: How can we influence a union to start embracing Lean, when the union at our company has been actively against it from the start?
  • Lean in China – almost 18 years ago episode – Ep 12 — Thoughts on how things have evolved?
  • Has Tesla ever invited you to visit their gemba?
  • Which companies does he consider to be Lean exemplars in the United States?
  • What do you think we, as a Lean community, could/should do better?
  • Read Ed Schein’s Organizational Culture and Leadership
  • Did you ever meet Dr. Deming?

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