Book review: The Machine That Changed the World

Today we do a book review on the machine that changed the world from James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos. The book is already around for 3 decades and was first published in 1990. So, if you are long enough working in the world of lean you will probably have heard about it. It is a classic best-selling book and therefore referenced a lot.

The authors worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and formed the International Motor Vehicle Program (IMVP). At IMVP they did a 5-year, 5-million-dollar study during the 80' to see what were the success factors which lead to higher performance in the worldwide car industry. For this, they visited more than 80 car companies around the world. The book summarises the results and findings of the study.

The conclusion was that companies who had implemented a lean production process rather then a classic mass production process had on average a better performance. This better performance translates itself in higher quality, higher productivity quicker deliveries, lower costs, ...

In other words, is described how the assembly line invented by henry ford was improved by Toyota by implementing what would become known as lean. due to the high success rate of lean implementation, there was a worldwide shift within the car industry to move from mass production to lean production. And eventually, the introduction of lean was adopted by other industries.

Is it about making cars or is there more

I have heard from people that they were disappointed after reading the book. "It's about making cars" and they are right It is really a book about making cars. It summaries after all a study over the car industry. So this could be a hurdle to overcome if you are not familiar with the industry or do not have a passion for cars.

But the book is so much more and I am sure that is has been read by many more people that do not work in the automotive industry than people that do. The authors describe the automotive revolution which took place from mass production to lean production. It is a book about lean through the lenses of the car manufacturing industry, the cradle of lean. The book describes where the lean ideas developed from. It gives an overview of the history of lean production and how the concept of lean thinking was developed to improve performance. While the book describes only the automotive industry. The lean philosophy and principles can be adopted in other industries. Something which has been proven over the last 30 years since the book was first published.

Not a Typical how to book

Be aware it is not a typical how-to book like the many other Lean books that you can buy. It is a mixture between an informational textbook, history book, and novel. So you have to adapt your mindset to it.

People how are buying it and expect it to be a manual to see how the lessons they learned in the automotive industry can be applied to their own business could become indeed disappointed. Although the fundamentals of this system can be applied to every industry, you will have to do the translation yourself. This isn't the book to read if you are looking for a book that can help you with implementing lean in your organization. In fact, I would not recommend reading the book if you do not have yet experienced in lean. Do not buy this book as your first lean book!

Why buying "the machine that changed the world"

So why should you then buy the book? This shouldn't be the only book you ever read on lean. Once you have a basic lean understanding of how to implement lean, you will be able to enjoy it. You will be able to understand the key points the book is presenting. You will be able to see how all the theory in the "how-to" lean books are used in practice and not just by a made-up example. Having said that, this is a fantastic book that can help you further develop your understanding and knowledge of lean. It is a unique book next to all these similar-looking "how-to" books.

Although this book is already 30 years on the market it remains relevant today. It is not only relevant to the auto industry but also to other industries. On the other side due to the fact that it was published first in 1990 it misses some of the latest developments. Nevertheless, it remains a classic and has been on the wish list of many lean experts.

I give this book review of the machine that changed the world a 9/10.

This article was updated on November 30, 2022