The machine that changed the world

image I heard a lot about Lean software development. By heard a lot I mean that I heard people saying the world, not actually knowing what it really is. Being a very curious man I decided to read about it. Colleague of mine, Jason Yip recommended this book “The Machine That Changed The World: The Story of Lean Production – Toyota’s Secret Weapon in Global Car Wars That Is Revolutionizing World Industry” by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos. I have to agree, the tile is rather long. It tells a story of Lean Production in a way it was born, in car industry after World War II. I started to read it and decided that I’m going to blog what’s in the chapters that I go through. I hope it will serve me as a notes from the book and as a teaser for anyone else.


What I learned in introduction is:

  • a bunch of scientists that meet in MIT decided to collect all the information from all major car manufacturers around the world about every single aspect of car manufacturing
  • team of 65 people were gathering information from all major car manufacturing companies
  • book is based on academic research but presents a dry summary of findings, instead of being a report

The Industry of Industries in Transition

Findings in this chapter:

  • automobile manufacturing is the world’s largest manufacturing activity
  • after World War I Henry Ford and General Motors’ Alfred Sloan kicked off the mass production
  • after World War II Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno kicked of lean production at Toyota Motor Company
  • the world of mass production is struggling at the moment with too many managers, too many workers and too many plants
  • craft producer uses highly skilled workers and simple but flexible tools
  • mass producer uses narrowly skilled professionals with expensive, single purpose machines
  • lean producer combines both
  • Lean is lean because it uses less of everything compared to mass production
  • mass production goal is good enough == acceptable number of defects, maximum level of inventories, narrow range of products
  • lean production goal is set on perfection == declining cost, zero defects, zero inventories, endless product variety
  • lean changes the way people work and their professional career

The Rise and Fall of Mass Production

Kick start of mass production:

  • Henry Ford designed perfect vehicle for manufacturing, easy to use, interchangeable parts, easy to fix
  • first change introduced to assembly line was moving parts close to a workers so they save time and don’t have to go to get them
  • every assembler would only perform single easy task
  • introduction of moving assembly line


Perfecting interchangeable worker:

  • every assembler had only one task (e.g.. put two nuts together) – boring
  • every worker required 5 minutes of training
  • dividing workers; work floor workers, engineers
  • no career for those on the floor
  • new career for professional engineers


Ford was aiming to achieve vertical integration within organization. Produce cars entirely in one place and ship them onto entire world. Problems with shipping and trade barriers caused Ford to start manufacturing cars in 19 other countries outside US.


For created a set of simple tools that would perform only one job and could be operated by unskilled worker. All the tools were highly accurate and almost completely automated.


No surprise in here, the product was a car. At the beginning of mass production Ford was producing Model T. Ford’s car was very popular, it was cheap and everyone could repair it.

Introducing Management

Because until 1925 all the decisions were made by Henry Ford and in one place organization and control of the entire production process across all the countries was impossible. Alfred Sloan introduces management and decentralization of decisions through the company. Ford also introduces standards across mechanical car parts that made it possible to introduce some variety between models.

The fall

After many years of continues rise, year 1955 was the peak time in mass production. After this time, US domination on car market started to decline. The cause of that was mostly the appearance of new car companies in Europe and in Japan. More importantly those companies were introducing greater variety of car models than standard Ford’s setup.

This is all from first few chapters. I will read the birth of Lean in next chapter and share. Stay tooned 😉


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