leantpsNo. At least not to the discriminating eye.

Professor Yasuhiro Monden studied Toyota’s production system in the early 1980s. As part of his research he had direct contact with Taiichi Ohno and his disciples, and communicated with them in Japanese. In his book, Toyota Production System: Practical Approach to Production Management (first edition, 1983, page 2), Monden characterizes TPS this way:

“…although cost-reduction is the system’s most important goal, it must achieve three other sub-goals in order to achieve its primary objective. They include:

1. Quantity control, which enables the system to adapt to daily and monthly fluctuations in demand in terms of quantities and variety;
2. Quality assurance, which assures that each process will supply only good units to subsequent processes;
3. Respect-for-humanity, which must be cultivated while the system utilizes the human resources to obtain its cost objectives.

It should be emphasized here that these three goals cannot exist independently or be achieved independently without influencing each other or the primary goal of cost reduction. It is a special feature of the Toyota production system that the primary goal cannot be achieved without realization of the subgoals and vice versa. All goals are outputs of the same system; with productivity as the ultimate purpose and guiding concept, the Toyota production system strives to realize each of the goals for which it has been designed.”

This is consistent with what I learned from Shingijutsu more than twenty years ago. It is also consistent with the team member handbook that Toyota created in 1984 for its joint venture with General Motors, called NUMMI.

In their influential 1990 book, The Machine that Changes the World: The Story of Lean Production, Womack, Jones, and Roos presented “lean production” as a term synonymous with TPS. The same was true for Krafcik’s 1988 paper, “Triumph of the Lean Production System.” Lean was therefore not separately defined.

Today, “Lean” is generally regarded as a generic term for TPS, but is not necessarily synonymous. Is something presented as the same actually the same? If company A were to practice Lean and company B were to practice TPS, all other things being equal, would the outcomes be the same? I don’t think so.

In their influential 1996 book Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, Womack and Jones used the term “lean thinking” to describe what they had learned in their research about the people who were creating Lean organizations. They defined “lean thinking” as consisting of the following five principles that guided people’s actions (pp. 10 and 16-26):

  1. Specify Value
  2. Identify the Value Stream
  3. Flow
  4. Pull
  5. Perfection

Subsequent definitions and characterizations can be found here. This is inconsistent with what I learned from Shingijutsu more than twenty years ago. Note that Mondens’ book described TPS as “management,” while Womack and Jones’ book described Lean as “wealth creation.”

The term “lean production” is an interpretation of the Toyota Production System that is much lower fidelity than TPS itself, encompassing major differences in mindset, objectives, methods, and outcomes. Lean, being a poor interpretation of TPS, led people astray for a very long time – especially with regards to the nexus between human relations (social interaction) and continuous improvement. Unfortunately, senior managers’ quest for wealth creation using Lean did much harm to workers (e.g. lack of trust, layoffs, benefits accrue to owners, etc.). The people who gave us “lean production” long ago still have yet to own up to that.

The difference between Lean and TPS is the difference between failure or limited accomplishment and overcoming infinite successive challenges to enjoy greater achievement. In particular, “lean production” missed some critically important elements of TPS. While today these elements are now recognized (or more fully recognized), they remain less important in Lean that they are in TPS.

Together, I call these “the umami of TPS,” where umai (うまい) means “delicious” and mi (味) means “taste.” Without these, Lean can taste sweet some of the time, but most of the time there are strong tastes of sourness, saltiness, and bitterness – especially for employees who have been harmed by Lean.

Lean = TPS – umami

Add umami, “delicious taste,” to Lean and you come much closer to TPS. Please try that.

16 Responses to Is Lean the Same as TPS?

  1. Mark Bradway says:

    Well said as usual. Taste and see that Lean (True Lean) is GOOD! No bitterness within it for anyone.

  2. John Dennis says:

    I do like your ‘Umami’ word (-:
    Can we not just add a 6th principle, ‘Repect for workers’, to Womack and Jones’s 5 Lean principles …so we now have
    1. Value
    2. Value Stream
    3. Pull
    4. Flow
    5. Strive for Perfection ( Kaizen, Human energy, enthusiasm, and passion for improvement
    Evolution in mindset and methods
    Infinite possibilities for improvement)
    6. Respect

    As teachers and trainers we of course expand up each of those sections to explain what we mean by ‘respect’, ‘perfection’, ‘flow’ etc however as a teaching / training tool I believe that this list of ‘6 Principles’ of Lean covers it a good starting point for teaching. Agree ?

  3. Philip gibson says:

    The standard at which Toyota improved things and indeed their own production system, was influenced and predated many years by the teachings of, and amonst others, Demming and his principles and theories of quality improvement. His teachings, philosophy and management principles were being adopted by many Japanese industries and companies contributing to the Japanese economic miracle, even before Toyota.

    The pdc(s)a Shewhart improvement cycle (predates Demming and Toyota), flow chart, feedback loops etc are not a byproducts of TPS. Kaizen is basically just a word. A loosely translated one at best. Lean is another word aptly named to justify an opinion or observation of the way Toyota did things smarter. If we want to develop our own understanding of what is lean, then we could look further back than TPS and take inspiration from the same source as Toyota and Japan.

    Then and only then, we should be inspired to look forward and not limit, restrict or sell  ourselves, based on select pieces of potentially outdated literature. Make our own definitions. Its humorous to think where the lean community would be , if the ‘Likers’ and’ Miers’ had arrived at Japan quite a few years earlier or maybe called in at Nissan or Toshiba instead of Toyota. With respect to professor Monden, his observations have identified no newer benefits than anything more than a rebranding or rewording of Demmings philosophy 30 years prior.

  4. Steve Ruqus says:

    Thank you for the thought provoking essay. I believe the founders of TPS would agree that their way was for Toyota and that lean is more than any one system, it is a way of life. Lean is half art, half science and has become more a way of thinking than specific rules or steps.

  5. Bill Waddell says:

    Lean is so widely interpreted (more often misinterpreted) that the value of any article assessing lean depends on what version the author assumes to be representative of lean. Many lean companies are actually very good at the things the author says are lacking.

  6. Daniel Mulloy says:

    I am not sure about lean and TPS but this might be the appropriate place to discuss the absolute of pull (based on customer demand) at Toyota. This is the pace driver, at T no one is able to produce more than what is sold. Everything works in conjunction and is choreographed to replenish what has been sold. This insures that you do not have more capacity (waste) than is required and eliminates buffers (waste). I have come across several companies that want to implement lean tools to address specific issues such as extended changeover times but do not address how many and how long should the changeovers are necessary to satisfy the customer.

  7. Mark Graban says:

    Saying Womack & Jones defined Lean as “wealth creation” might be true based on the subtitle of the book. But the book doesn’t ignore Lean as a “management” system or process. There are many things that could be criticized about the book, but I think it’s a stretch to say they “defined” Lean as wealth creation. Blame them for not pushing back on the publisher’s marketing folks, perhaps.

    • Bob Emiliani says:

      In my view, the subtitle of the book was effective at anchoring people, especially senior managers, as to the purpose of Lean. In the book, The Wiremold story, in particular, is focused on wealth creation. Perhaps that was due to how Art Byrne spoke about Lean when Womack and Jones (street name: “WoJo”) were gathering information for the book. In any event, the book came out at a time when business leaders were focused on “maximizing shareholder value” (a.k.a. wealth creation). That being their focus, other aspects of Lean (and particularly TPS) got lost.

      Also, Lean was originally presented as the generic term for TPS. However, the raison d’être of Lean, as reflected in the subtitle of the book, is different than raison d’être of TPS – which is productivity improvement, cost reduction, and so on, as described by Monden in 1983. Inadvertently or not, Lean represents a different raison d’être.

      “Wealth creation” is a powerful phrase that immediately grabs the attention of CEOs because it confirms their bias that their number one job is wealth creation. In the early days, Lean did attract CEOs attention, and the first Lean Summit run by LEI was full of CEOs. In subsequent Lean Summits, successively lower-level people attended, indicating that CEOs thought Lean was useful but not something they should do. It was for others to do, down in the organization. Lean was seen merely as some new “tools for the manager’s toolkit;” tools that are used for the purpose of creating wealth.

  8. Sid Joynson says:

    So much was lost when lean was copied from TPS.
    At the heart of TPS is a focus on the 4R’s. Results, Resources, Resourcefulness and Respect. Sadly they are not all central themes in Lean Thinking.
    The first R is for Results
    The goal in this area is to achieve the results TPS is designed to give the customer;
    1 – What they want. (The best P, S, and E available in your industry. Products, services and experiences).
    2 – In the quantity they want, without defects. (Any multiple of one. One piece flow facilitates this capability. Jidoka and Poka- yoke will ensure zero defects). –
    3- Delivered when they want it. (Just in time to suit their needs. Takt time is the driver). —
    The second ‘R’ is Resources.
    The goal in this area is to achieve the three performance goals using the minimum ‘Resources’ (i.e. materials – machinery – methods – movement – minutes – manpower – money). Anything above the minimum resources required to produce the product, service and experience that will delight the customer is defined as waste, and is a target for removal. This is one the main areas of focus for TPS and lean activities – Waste elimination. What cannot be removed should then be seen as a target to be continuously improved. The first rule in this area is; remove it before you try to improve it. —
    The third ‘R’ has been largely missed by the lean movement. This is Resourcefulness.
    The goal in this area is to release the ‘Resourcefulness’ (talent, creativity and enthusiasm) of all our people to achieve the first three goals. This ability must also drive the waste elimination and continuous improvement process throughout your organisation and down through your supply chain. A key rule in this area is; sustain the gains, maintain the change.—
    The fourth ‘R’ is ‘Respect’. This was element was missed by the original lean thinking movement. From my own experience, we must see ‘RESPECT’ as the password that gives access to the file that contains our people’s total ability (talent, creativity and enthusiasm). Without the correct code, access will not be possible. This is one of the key bonding elements between managers and their people. This style can be called TLC, Tender Loving Care. Too many managers show TDC for their people, Thinly Disguised contempt. The key rule in this area is; Star managers make their people shine. —
    One of the most enlightening comments I have heard on the ‘Toyota Respect for people’ subject, came from a manager at their Burnaston plant. He explained that; “The respect we have for our people means that we must FILL their days with valuable work”. . Respect should not be seen as a ‘soft-side’ subject. A lot is given and a lot is expected in return. —
    Anyone who understands TPS will tell you the third and fourth R’s are central to its success. They are missing from too many lean programmes and are the reason for many of their failures. —
    When you apply 4R’s thinking not only to your external and internal customer contact areas, but also down your supply chain, you will start to understand where and how Toyota’s amazing performance and competitive advantage are created. —
    When you realise that lean programmes wish to achieve the first R – results. But focus their main activities on the second R – use minimum resources, and pay insufficient attention to the third R – resourcefulness – and fourth R – respect.–
    Three quotations to clarify and confirm our thinking.
    “There is no magic method. Rather a total management system is needed to develop human ability to its fullest capacity to enhance fruitfulness and creativity to utilise facilities and machines well, and eliminate waste.” — “Of course what is important is not the system, but the creativity of human beings”. Taiichi Ohno. — When trying to understand lean and TPS, or anything else, we should always remember Pavlov’s words. “Don’t be a collector of facts. Try to penetrate to the secrets of their occurrence, persistently search for the laws that govern them”. –
    NO! Lean is not the same as TPS.

  9. Jiri Vesely says:

    From my perspective, Lean is a stepping stone you need to experience before you start to fully comprehend Deming`s thoughts and consequently Peter Senge`s ideas on Learning organization. TQM was never focsued simply on quality, there was a lot of thoughts about cgnitive and behavioral patterns within the organization and as I see it, The Fifth Discipline book managed to take those ideas and transform them to age of knowledge society.

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