I’m excited to bring you my 10 top books (or rather, 10 of my top books…as there are so many great ones) on the history and foundations of lean management, lean production, and the Toyota Way! If you’re a leader or continuous improvement practitioner who is committed to improvement and you’re trying to create a learning organization, then you are likely someone who is interested in lean management, the Toyota Way, and the Toyota production system. What better way to keep learning about these lean management principles than by going back to the foundations and basics?
I’m often asked for my top recommended books for continuous improvement coaches, new managers, senior leaders, and those simply passionate about developing people and creating learning cultures. These questions for recommended books range on a variety of topics — from lean management and the history of lean production, to problem-solving and coaching, and how to lead culture change and deploy strategy…and much more!
I wanted to put together a list of books for you, but the list was too long for one post!!
So, I’ve decided to start a three-part series that shares my recommendations broken down into three categories. While these are top 10 books…they really should be considered “10 top books” in each categroy, as there are so many I could recommend to you.
This is the first article in my series of top 10 books recommended for you:
- 10 Top Books on Foundations and History of Lean Management, Lean Production, and Toyota Way
- 10 Top Books on Problem-Solving and Coaching for Improvement
- 10 Top Books on Culture, Organizational Change, & Strategy
10 Top Books Foundations of Lean Management, Lean Production, and Toyota Way
This first article focuses on the foundation of lean: books on the foundations and history of lean management, lean production, and the Toyota Way (the Toyota Way later became known as lean).
There are so many on my shelves that have influenced my learning about kaizen (or continuous improvement), lean management, and Toyota’s history that it was hard to narrow down the list.
So, in order to narrow it down, I am first sharing influential books from authors in my own learning journey, who have also honored my book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn with their endorsement, plus a few bonus books as well.
Here you’ll learn about why I recommend these top 10 books on lean management, my personal experiences with many of these leading thinkers, and how they’ve informed my Chain of Learning.
There are many more books I could include on this list, but these are some of my go-to books that I suggest you read to learn the fundamentals of lean management, lean management tools, lean techniques, plus Toyota history and fundamentals.
Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top 10 books on the foundations of lean management, lean production, and the Toyota Way.
📚 Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn
I’m including my own book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn: Lessons from Toyota leader Isao Yoshino on a Lifetime of Continuous Learning on this list as I honestly believe it is one of the key books that complements these other foundational books on the history of Toyota and the foundations of lean management.
I am incredibly grateful for the personal opportunity to learn directly from this 40-year Toyota leader, and wrote this book for the purpose of sharing his insights about leadership and key moments (many previously undocumented outside of Japan) with you.
Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn explores the history and fundamentals of how Toyota’s learning culture developed, and inside stories from Isao Yoshino’s journey of continuous learning and change management over 40 years at Toyota.
But don’t just take my word for it. Below you can read what these other influential authors had to say about their learning from the book!
📚 The Machine that Changed the World by James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos
Two of my top lean management books – The Machine that Changed the World and Lean Thinking – both co-authored by Jim Womack and Daniel Jones (plus Daniel Roos for the former) – are must-read books for any lean practitioner, Toyota Production System, or automobile enthusiast. For sake of this list and keeping to just 10 books, I’m highlighting The Machine that Changed the World.
It is in The Machine that Changed the World that the term “Lean” was coined to describe Toyota’s approach to management and manufacturing. (Interestingly, I heard directly from Jim Womack at the Lean Summit in 2018 when we were both giving a TED-style “Lean Talk” that they were debating what to call the system they oberserved at Toyota. “Lean” won, but “Fragile” was a consideration….but, as Jim said, “who wants to adopt a ‘Fragile’ management system?”.)
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting both Dan and Jim personally – coincidentally I met each of them for the first time in Australia in separate years when we were each presenters at the Lean Australian Summits in the 2010s.
These two thought leaders have shaped me and my thinking and I’m incredibly honored to have their endorsement of my book.
Here is what Jim Womack had to say about Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn:
“Into the global gloom of this strange moment in history, Katie Anderson brings a bright light — Isao Yoshino’s story of becoming a manager at Toyota and learning while leading for 40 years. Katie explains how Yoshino found his North Star, overcame adversity, framed situations in a positive way, learned from failure, and, always, developed the people he worked with as well as himself.
So read this book. It will make you feel better. And, if you reflect on and heed its wisdom, you will become a better person and a better coach and manager as well. A gift to treasure in a dark time.”
– James Womack – Founder of the Lean Enterprise Institute
Here is what Dan Jones had to say about Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn:
“’Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn’ is a beautiful book! Katie Anderson has woven together Isao Yoshino’s stories of learning and leading in a way that helps us all better understand the learning culture within Toyota. In this book, the reader gets to ‘go to the gemba’ at Toyota and observe how one individual learner became a teacher and leader (and continues to remain a learner).
You will discover how all managers can be learners who are focused on the learning of his/her co-workers. And you will find valuable lessons on people-centric leaders — about the importance of seeing each worker as a human being with his or her own history, purpose, and dreams.”
– Daniel Jones – Founder of the Lean Enterprise Academy
The Machine That Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production
From the Publisher:
When The Machine That Changed the World was first published in 1990, Toyota was half the size of General Motors. Twenty years later Toyota passed GM as the world’s largest automaker. This management classic was the first book to reveal Toyota’s lean production system that is the basis for its enduring success.
The authors provide a comprehensive description of the entire lean management system. They exhaustively documented its advantages over the mass production model pioneered by General Motors and predicted that lean production would eventually triumph. Indeed, they argued that it would triumph not just in manufacturing but in every value-creating activity from health care to retail to distribution.
📚 The Toyota Way, Second Edition by Jeffrey Liker
Jeff Liker’s seminal book The Toyota Way was one of my first introductions to lean thinking and practice back in 2006, and has been a foundation for my understanding of the Toyota Way and its rich history. In my lean learning journey, I’ve read all of Jeff’s books building on the Toyota Way concepts.
In 2021, Jeff released a revised edition of The Toyota Way, incorporating new thinking and concepts including Mike Rother’s “Toyota Kata” framework for improvement and coaching for improvement. The Toyota Way is a must read for anyone interested in lean, Toyota, and continuous improvement.
Here is what Jeff had to say about Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn:
“The real essence of the Toyota Way is learning your way to a dream — as individuals and organizations. Through the life and learning of Yoshino-san, Katie Anderson gives us a glimpse into this deep level of learning and teaching and sense of purpose.
If you want to really understand continuous improvement, lean, and other derivatives, read this book.”
– Jeff Liker, President of Liker Lean Advisors, LLC and author of The Toyota Way
The Toyota Way, Second Edition: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer
From the Publisher:
One of the most impactful business guides published in the 21st Century, The Toyota Way played an outsized role in launching the continuous-improvement movement that continues unabated today.
Multiple Shingo Award-winning management and operations expert Jeffrey K. Liker provides a deep dive into Toyota’s world-changing processes, showing how you can learn from it to develop your own improvement program that fits your conditions.
With The Toyota Way, you have an inspiration and a model of how to set a direction, continuously improve and learn at all levels, continually “flow” value to satisfy customers, improve your leadership, and get quality right the first time.
📚 The Toyota Way to Service Excellence by Jeffrey Liker and Karyn Ross
Of the many books in Liker’s The Toyota Way series, another of my favorites is The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, which Jeff Liker co-authored with Karyn Ross. The book connects the principles of the Toyota Way to non-manufacturing industries who strive for not only operational excellence, but service excellence!
[You can check out the interview I did with Jeff here about The Toyota Way to Service Excellence when it was first published.]
I met Karyn Ross in person shortly after the release of this book, and she quickly became a close friend and collaborator (in addition to developing a community of practice called “K2C2”, we’ve also collaborated on articles and podcasts). Karyn also served as the developmental editor of Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn.
Karyn’s book How to Coach for Creativity and Service Excellence is another book of my forthcoming list of Top 10 Books on Coaching and Problem-Solving.
Here is what Karyn Ross had to say about Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn:
“Those who are lean practitioners always know that the best way to understand is to ‘go and see!’ In this wonderful book of stories and reflections about Mr. Yoshino’s tenure at Toyota, Katie Anderson beautifully captures and helps us ‘see’ Mr. Yoshino’s lessons on Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn. I know you will enjoy, learn and grow from this book as much as I have!”
– Karyn Ross – Author, Coach & Consultant
The Toyota Way to Service Excellence: Lean Transformation in Service Organizations
From the Publisher:
The world’s bestselling Lean expert shows service-based organizations how to go Lean, gain value, and get results―The Toyota Way.
A must-read for service professionals of every level, this essential book takes the proven Lean principles of the bestselling Toyota Way series and applies them directly to the industries where quality of service is crucial for success. Jeff Liker and Karyn Ross show you how to develop Lean practices throughout your organization using the famous 4P model. Whether you are an executive, manager, consultant, or frontline worker who deals with customers every day, you’ll learn how take advantage of all Lean has to offer.
With this book as your guide, you’ll gain a clear understanding of Lean and discover the principles, practices and tools needed to develop people and processes that surprise and delight each of your customers. These ground-tested techniques are designed to help you make continuous improvements in your services, streamline your operations, and add ever-increasing value to your customers.
📚 Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process to Solve Problems, Gain Agreement, Mentor and Lead by John Shook
John Shook has been an important link in my Chain of Learning about lean and leadership since I first was exposed to the Toyota Way and lean thinking in the mid-2000s. As I describe in the introduction to Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, it was through John – at the Lean Coaching Summit in 2014 – that I met Isao Yoshino, the subject of my book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn. Mr. Yoshino was John’s boss when he was the first non-Japanese employee at Toyota Motor Corporation and John credits Mr. Yoshino as the inspiration for the manager character in his award-winning book Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process to Solve Problems, Gain Agreement, Mentor and Lead.
The list of my top 10 books on lean management wouldn’t be complete without including John’s book Managing to Learn. It is my go-to book on A3-thinking and practice as it describes not only the more technical process of problem-solving using a structured A3 format, but the relationship between leader and learner in coaching for problem-solving. As such, it’s also among my top books on coaching and A3 problem-solving.
I’m honored that John not only wrote the foreword to Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, and am grateful that he donated personal photos to enrich the visual history of Isao Yoshino’s stories.
Here’s what John Shook had to say about Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn in an excerpt from his foreword to the book:
“In her debut book, ‘Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn,’ Katie Anderson has distilled countless hours of interviews, lecture transcripts, and conversation (and ample debate, too, I am sure) into a cohesive whole that’s informative, inspiring, and entertaining.
I am grateful to Katie for capturing Isao Yoshino’s story … and for going beyond just documenting history but weaving it all into a rich tapestry that readers of many interests will find compelling and useful.
Explorers of lean thinking and practice will find a deep dive into the mind of a Toyota manager during the defining final third of the 20th century. Japanophiles will find access to the inner workings of Japan’s largest industrial enterprise during the heyday of Japan Inc.
And, perhaps most importantly, executive coaches — or anyone with an interest in the phenomenon of ‘manager-as-coach’ — will find in these pages a rich expression of the thinking and practices of a deeply thoughtful, extraordinarily reflective practitioner of the craft.”
– John Shook, Chairman of the Lean Global Network, and CEO of the Lean Enterprise Institute
Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process to Solve Problems, Gain Agreement, Mentor and Lead
From the Publisher:
Managing to Learn by Toyota veteran John Shook, reveals the thinking underlying the A3 problem-solving and A3 management process found at the heart of lean management and leadership.
Constructed as a dialogue between a manager and his boss, the book explains how “A3 thinking” helps managers and executives identify, frame, and act on problems and challenges. Shook calls this A3 approach, “the key to Toyota’s entire system of developing talent and continually deepening its knowledge and capabilities.”
📚 The Toyota Engagement Equation by Tracey Richardson and Ernie Richardson
Tracey Richardson and her husband Ernie Richardson are rich sources of information about the real practices of the Toyota Way. Tracey and Ernie both worked at Toyota’s Kentucky plant (which Isao Yoshino helped get established, as documented in Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn).
Their co-authored book, The Toyota Engagement Equation, documents not only their personal stories and experiences learning and leading at Toyota, but also synthesizes their insights into practical knowledge through their Toyota Engagement Equation framework for us all to learn from. Their book is a fabulous compliment to the insider stories documented Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn – both based on real experiences of leading to learn at Toyota.
The three of us have been faculty for the Lean Enterprise Institute for years and met several times at LEI Summits and other lean conferences. I had the honor of having my personal copy of The Toyota Engagement Equation signed by Tracey.
Like many of the authors in this list, as I was writing Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, Tracey offered invaluable advice to me about not only the book writing process, but also the book publishing and marketing process.
Here’s what Tracey Richardson had to say about Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn:
“In Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, Katie Anderson invites us into conversations with Mr. Isao Yoshino about his four decades of learnings at Toyota Motor Corporation. Together, book author and book subject extrapolate valuable lessons and insights from the fabric of the Toyota Way.
The reader will walk along a distinctive journey of self-discoveries, experiments, failures, and successes in Toyota’s and Mr. Yoshino’s growth. These lessons can be translated to any level leader and in any industry. I encourage anyone who influences people in cultural change to embrace the shared wisdom in this book.”
– Tracey Richardson, Founder of Teaching Lean Inc.
The Toyota Engagement Equation: How to Understand and Implement Continuous Improvement Thinking in Any Organization
From the Publisher:
Ever since Toyota introduced the revolutionary Toyota Production System (TPS), businesses have tried to replicate Toyota’s success. Few have succeeded over the long term. What businesses have failed to realize is that TPS calls for a fundamentally different way of thinking.
Authors Tracey and Ernie Richardson speak from the heart as Toyota employees who worked in the Kentucky factory when the company was first introducing its people-first approach in the U.S., and went on in the ensuing decades to teach Lean thinking around the world.
This deep dive into the company’s game-changing work practices reveals how employees were developed, how they were taught to spot and define problems through standardization, how they were coached to solve them, and how they were encouraged to improve their thinking as they moved forward.
And you’ll see how Toyota developed this simple but profoundly effective approach into an overall management system―and how you can achieve amazing results in your company through the same system.
📚 Working with Machines by Michel Baudin
I met Michel Baudin back in the early years of my lean learning journey when I was working at Stanford University’s Children’s Hospital. We both live in the same part of the San Francisco Bay Area and met up for the first time in the early 2010s, when Michel gave me a signed copy of his book Working with Machines, and made invaluable introductions to local manufacturing companies – suppliers to the then exciting Toyota-GM joint venture NUMMI – that offered “go-see” gemba visits for my organization.
Since then, with a shared history of living in Japan and a shared passion for lean management, we have remained close and regularly get together to exchange ideas.
Michel’s books are important resources for anyone wanting to learn the more technical production principles and practices behind the successful lean transformation.
Working with Machines provides technical insights into how to apply the Toyota concept of jidoka: “intelligent automation” with a human touch. (See this article from my visit to the Toyota Kyushu plant to learn more about jidoka and other Toyota Production System concepts.)
Here’s what Michel Baudin had to say about Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn:
“The stories in this book — like Mr. Yoshino’s first-hand accounts of implementing process changes on the Toyota assembly line or of starting up NUMMI — are must-reads for anyone with an interest in TPS or the Toyota Way. And Katie Anderson brings her contagious enthusiasm, sincerity, and great writing skills to the task of shaping and organizing this information for English speakers.”
– Michel Baudin, Consultant, Trainer, & Author
Working with Machines: The Nuts and Bolts of Lean Operations with Jidoka
From the Publisher:
In western manufacturing, the more manual a process, the more severe the competitive handicap of high wages. Full automation would make labor costs irrelevant but remain impractical in most industries. Most successful manufacturing processes in advanced economies are neither fully manual nor fully automatic — they involve interactions between small numbers of highly skilled people and machines that account for the bulk of the manufacturing costs and thereby remain competitive.
In Working with Machines: The Nuts and Bolts of Lean Operations With Jidoka, author Michel Baudin explains how performance differences that can be observed from one factory to the next are due to the way people use the machines — from the human interfaces of individual machines to the linking of machines into cells, the management of monuments and common services, automation, maintenance, and production control.
📚 Lead with Respect by Michael Ballé and Freddy Ballé
Michael Balle has made innumerous contributions to the foundational body of knowledge about lean thinking and practice. While I typically prefer non-fiction books when it comes to management and leadership, Michael’s and his father Freddy’s leadership novels stand out to me because of their ability to connect lean principles and lean practices with relatable and tangible stories.
I chose Lead with Respect, out of their many books, to be on this list because of its connection with the real power of lean – about developing people and leading with respect.
[I interviewed Michael about another book, The Lean Strategy – of which you can read Part 1 and Part 2.]
Here’s what Michael had to say about Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn:
“If you’re interested in lean and learning, this is an absolute must-read!
Katie Anderson’s brilliant and original concept of warp (our deeper interests and goals) and weft (what we discover and learn in our journey) — illustrated through the real-life experience of Isao Yoshino, one of Toyota’s great sensei — makes a unique, pleasant, and illuminating read. Don’t miss it.”
– Michael Ballé, Co- author of The Gold Mine Trilogy and The Lean Strategy
Lead With Respect: A Novel of Lean Practice
From the Publisher:
In their new business novel Lead With Respect, authors Michael and Freddy Ballé reveal the true power of lean: developing people through a rigorous application of proven tools and methods. And, in the process, creating the only sustainable source of competitive advantage—a culture of continuous improvement. Lead With Respect’s timely message brings a new understanding of lean. While lean has become essential for companies to compete in today’s global economy, most practitioners see it as a rigorous focus on process to produce higher quality goods and services—a limited understanding that fails to realize the true power of this approach.
This new novel by the Ballés, the third in a series that includes Shingo Research Award-winners The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager, breaks new ground by sharing huge amounts of practical information on the most important yet least understood aspect of lean management: how to develop people through a rigorous application of lean tools.
There are several key books on my bookshelf that I have to include in this list of my best lean management books, but not necessarily by authors who provided a pre-publication endorsement of Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn.
Here are some honorable mentions that must be on this list. And of course, there are so many more that could deserve a place on my top 10 books on lean management.
📚 All About Pull Productions by Christoph Roser
Christoph Roser and I first “met” each other when he commented on a blog article I wrote about Japanese bathrooms back in 2015 when I was first living in Japan.
Christoph and I had the pleasure of meeting in person in 2018 when we were both visiting Japan – me to prepare for my upcoming Japan Study Trip and he on sabbatical from the University of Applied Sciences in Karlsruhe, Germany.
We met up with my good friend Tim Wulput who took us to visit a Japanese accounting firm to learn about their approach to people development – you can read about it here – and enjoyed lunch together.
Christoph’s blog AllAboutLean.com is an invaluable resource for any lean practitioner focusing on the application of production processes and lean management (including some articles referencing Isao Yoshino and his lessons about hoshin kanri, and the Kanri Noryoku (Kan-Pro) program, which I describe in detail in Learning to Lead Leading to Learn) – and he has synthesized much of his wisdom in his book All About Pull Production. Plus, we share a foreword author in John Shook!
All About Pull Production is a great technical resource for anyone looking to implement the production principles of lean — and in 2022 it won the esteemed Shingo Publication Award!
All About Pull Production: Designing, Implementing, and Maintaining Kanban, CONWIP, and other Pull Systems in Lean Production
From the Publisher:
All About Pull Production is a practical guide for anyone looking to implement pull systems. It focuses on practical application and values functionality over theory, albeit it explains the underlying relations. It is not a high-level philosophical discussion of lean, but a book to help you roll up your sleeves and get the job done. It is written for the practitioner. If you are working in production or logistics and want to implement pull, then this book is for you. It also serves as a useful reference for students and researchers of lean manufacturing.
📚 Total Quality Control for Management by Masao Nemoto
Former senior managing director of Toyota Motor Corporation
In Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, Isao Yoshino describes Masao Nemoto as one of the “big pillars” of Toyota, along with Taiichi Ohno.
Mr. Nemoto was the senior managing director of Toyota’s Kan-Pro leadership development program, of which Mr. Yoshino was part of the internal team. When I learned about Mr. Nemoto’s influence in shaping Toyota’s people-centered culture for which it is now famous, while I was writing Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, I sought out more information about this important Toyota leader. I found Nemoto’s book Total Quality Control for Management as an out-of-print edition and immediately made the connection between Mr. Nemoto’s Leadership Credo – his principles of management – with that of Mr. Yoshino’s (you can see both Mr. Nemoto’s and Mr. Yoshino’s credos in this article).
This book is a must-find for any Toyota or lean enthusiast to go back to the foundation of the people-side of the Toyota Way.
Total Quality Control for Management: Strategies and Techniques from Toyota and Toyoda Gosei (out of print)
Now, Toyota’s top quality control expert shows managers in any business how to improve quality management and cut costs using his management techniques. Used successfully by companies worldwide–these techniques have already been proven to increase productivity and dramatically improve quality in administrative, marketing, service and technology-related functions, as well as on the manufacturing floor.
📚 Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production by Taiichi Ohno
Taiichi Ohno is the other “big pillar” of Toyota that Isao Yoshino highlights in Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn. He is famous for being the creator of the more technical side of the Toyota Production System and for the “Ohno Circles” where managers were asked to step inside of one small circle and observe the work in the gemba (the place the work happens).
No list of top books on the history of the Toyota Production System and lean management would be complete without including Ohno.
Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production by Taiichi Ohno
From the Publisher:
In this classic text, Taiichi Ohno–inventor of the Toyota Production System and Lean manufacturing–shares the genius that sets him apart as one of the most disciplined and creative thinkers of our time. Combining his candid insights with a rigorous analysis of Toyota’s attempts at Lean production, Ohno’s book explains how Lean principles can improve any production endeavor. A historical and philosophical description of just-in-time and Lean manufacturing, this work is a must read for all students of human progress. On a more practical level, it continues to provide inspiration and instruction for those seeking to improve efficiency through the elimination of waste.
The Final Word on My Top 10 Books on Lean Management
I hope you enjoy reading and learning these books as much as I have.
And I hope they help you to continue to grow your Chain of Learning as you pass on your learnings to those in your sphere of influence.
I’d love to know which ones you read and what you think of them.
All 10 of these books about Toyota history, lean management, and lean production have played an important part in my own lean learning journey.
Whether you’re looking to deepen your understanding of lean thinking, explore the Toyota way, or bring lean transformation into your organization, these books will show you the way.
And if you’re interested in reading my book, Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, you can get your very own copy here.
Book Recommendation Series Overview
This is just one article of several that I’ve put together for you to deepen your Chain of Learning about lean, problem-solving, culture, strategy, and more.
This article contains a list of books that explores how the principles of lean management are applied across a variety of industries.
Here is the full list of my book recommendation series:
- 10 Top Books on Lean Management, Lean Production, and Toyota History
- 10 Top Books on Coaching and Problem-Solving
- 10 Top Books on Culture, Organizational Change, & Strategy