Grand-Daddy of Quality: James Womack

Grand Daddy of Quality - James Womack -

The Lean Enterprise Institute is coming up on its anniversary which means founder James Womack must be proud! We know he’s proud of his of meeting his daily goal of 10,000 steps. Time to celebrate the nonprofit LEI and its generous founder. Happy Birthday to both of you!

Like his colleague, John Shook, we don’t actually know when James Womack’s birthday is. He’s probably got better things to do than party with us, but we’d love to wish him happy birthday anyway because of his profound contributions to the problem-solving world. He is yet another Grand-Daddy of Quality!

As the founder and Senior Advisor to the Lean Enterprise Institute, Mr. Womack helped start the modern-day Lean movement. He is one of the main players in bringing what became “Lean Manufacturing” to the United States and the rest of the world.

Claims to Fame – What Did He Invent?

The Machine That Changed the World

He wrote the breakthrough book, The Machine That Changed the World

In his book, Mr. Womack explained and predicted the rise of Toyota. Although it feels as if the word “Lean” has been around forever, the reason we associate it with the Toyota Production System is because of James Womack and his co-authors, Mr. Jones and Mr. Roos. Back in 1990, Mr. Womack based this book on an MIT-based, IMVP-sponsored research study which gave him a rare peek into the workings of a profoundly different method of producing cars. What they found hinged on something called a “whole systems” approach and the result was Toyota’s steady rise from half the size of General Motors, when the book was published, to the largest purveyor of automotive services in the world. James Womack labeled their method, “Lean Production” in contrast to the widespread practice of “Mass Production” which dates back to the days of Henry Ford.

The Lean approach includes:

  • The elimination of wasteful activities and excess inventory
  • Employees skilled in continuous improvement and empowered to make changes
  • Seamless communication between suppliers and automakers, engineers and workers, between retailers and automakers and between the customers and the auto designers

And this led to some of the tools and concepts we’re so familiar with:

  • The 8 Wastes: Provides a method of identifying waste
  • Just-in-Time: Eliminates the practice of keeping excess parts on hand
  • A3: Enables workers and managers to problem-solve together
  • Autonomation (Jidoka): Allows the line, with help from workers, to stop production to solve issues
  • Changeover Reduction (SMED): Allows workers to quickly produce just the quantities needed
  • Customer Focus: Connects product design to the needs of the customers
  • Process Walk (Gemba Walk): Helps build process knowledge across functions

As they suggested decades ago, Lean Production works in almost any industry. It’s helped make huge strides in countless areas, most notably government and healthcare.

Lean Enterprise Institute:

He’s the founder of the Lean Enterprise Institute

Seven years after publishing the book that changed the world, Mr. Womack founded the nonprofit, Lean Enterprise Institute. His vision was to offer Lean education, publish related works, and hold conferences that would lead people to ask themselves, “What can I do differently Monday morning to make a difference in my organization?” Together with the current CEO, Mr. Shook, Mr. Womack established a truly global partnership of nonprofit institutes with the common mission of, “making things better, through lean thinking and practice.”

Little Known Facts:

  • He’s considered the founder of the Lean movement
  • He’s probably taken over a million steps in his Gemba Walks

James Womack at the Bahama Bistro:

Quote of the Day:

  • “I’d like to order a Wo-mac ‘n’ cheese please”

Putting James Womack into Action:

  • “When making a Wo-mac n’ cheese, it’s important not to create any waste”
  • Give me that thing – it is not going to waste!”

James Womack is still out there conducting endless Gemba Walks, learning from his experiences and writing about how people work together to create value. It’s clear that the key to being a great teacher is remaining a good student. We thank you for the gifts of knowledge and understanding you’ve brought to the world of process improvement.

Happy Birthday James Womack!

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