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The Machine That Changed the World

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The Machine That Changed the World

The Story of Lean Production – Toyota’s Secret Weapon in the Global Car Wars That Is Revolutionizing World Industry

Free Press,

15 min read
7 take-aways
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Toyota teaches timeless lessons about disruption, innovation and the adaptation to digital transformation.

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This management classic, taught in business schools worldwide, has remained relevant since the day of its first publication in 1990. It speaks to the timeless cycles of innovation, disruption and change, including the struggles that industries and firms face in adapting to rapidly changing markets and technologies. In this 2007 update, authors James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos offer lessons from the lean revolution for 21st-century transformations around digitization and advanced computing.


The lean production method, invented by automaker Toyota after WWII, borrows from the best of craft production and mass manufacturing.

Craft manufacturing dominated the automotive industry from the 1880s through the next three decades, when dozens of shops produced bespoke vehicles for wealthy buyers. In the early 1900s, Henry Ford used mass production to transform the industry by manufacturing better and more affordable cars. His innovations made the Ford Motor Company the world’s largest automaker.

By 1928, Alfred Sloan of General Motors (GM) had developed better management practices, including superior finance and marketing. GM cut into Ford’s dominance and took the lead.

By the 1950s and ’60s, American-style mass production had spread to Europe and worldwide. However, union power, high wages, inefficiencies, and an oil and gas crisis derailed US and European progress in the 1970s, paving the way for a newcomer.

Eiji Toyoda, nephew of Toyota’s founder, visited Ford’s US plants in 1950. Toyoda wanted to learn how Ford churned out 7,000 cars a day at its Rouge motor plant in Detroit, while by 1950 Toyota had produced...

About the Authors

James P. Womack founded the Lean Enterprise Institute. Daniel T. Jones founded the Lean Enterprise Academy. Daniel Roos is a professor emeritus of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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