Jim Womack and Dan Jones

danjonesjim-womackI write about these two giants together because of their close connections.

Womack (an American, pictured left) worked as a research scientist at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) between 1975 and 1991, becoming research director of the International Motor Vehicle Program, leading comparative studies of world manufacturing practices.

Jones (from the UK, pictured right) is a fellow academic and was the European director of the MIT program.

The MIT research programme culminated in the publication of a landmark book in 1990 called ‘The Machine that changed the world’ (Womack, Jones, Roos). It had the strap line “The story of Lean production: how Japan’s secret weapon in the global auto wars will revolutionise western industry” and was the publication that coined the word ‘Lean’ as a descriptor of what their research had uncovered.

  • Just to be clear: ‘Lean’ is merely a label applied by the researchers to describe what they saw and not a word that the Japanese (incl. Toyota) use(d) within their system.

Womack left MIT and went on to found the Lean Enterprise Institute in 1997, a non-profit institution for the dissemination and exploration of Lean thinking. Womack was chairman and CEO until 2010.

Jones founded a sister organisation in the UK called the Lean Enterprise Academy.

Womack and Jones have collaborated on a number of books, the most famous being their follow up book ‘Lean Thinking’ in which they codify five core Lean principles based on the Toyota Production System (TPS). They then wrote ‘Lean Solutions’ which takes it all one step further by considering Lean with respect to service (but, in my humble opinion, nowhere near as insightful and relevant as the work of John Seddon).

They are both highly regarded guest speakers around the world.

Womack worked as a management consultant to many companies, going on site to perform ‘Gemba walks’ around their value streams, observing and asking respectful questions about what he saw. He was in high demand! He started to write ‘e-letters’ (before blogs and posts!), which were short reflective essays on what he saw and experienced.

He put 10 years of these essays together into a structured collection and published them in an excellent book in 2011 called ‘Gemba walks’. I use selective essays from this book within my courses. The book charts the journey that the Lean ‘movement’ has been on since 1990, warts and all with some candid reflections.

Jones is a Professor at Cardiff Business School in the UK and, after much work in the production industry, turned his attention to how Toyota’s approach to production could be applied to healthcare. He has published books on Lean healthcare, organised global lean healthcare summits and mentors a dozen hospitals. He is an advisor to many organisations, including the UK government.

Key websites:

Lean Enterprise Institute: www.lean.org

Lean Enterprise Academy: www.leanuk.org

Co-authors of the books:

  • The Machine that changed the world (1990)
  • Lean Thinking (1996)
  • Lean Solutions (2005)


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