Lean Manufacturing

TPS is the Thinking People System

By Jon Miller Updated on May 11th, 2017

A friend of ours who is a Lean Manager for a local aerospace company gave us some insight into how Toyota is presenting TPS to the world these days. Our friend is an avid student of kaizen and recently spent time studying at several Toyota facilities in Kentucky. He informed us that at Toyota, they are now calling TPS the Thinking People System.

Toyota is emphasizing that TPS is not a set of tools, but that it is a system. It is a people-centered system. I had heard of TPS called “Thinking Production System” but I like “Thinking People System” even better.

Some companies implement Lean alongside Six Sigma, DFT, ERP systems, Baldridge, and a wide range of other tools, methods, and standards while missing the fact that Lean (TPS) is a philosophy, not another tool to put into the mix.

Thinking People System is a good description for TPS. How else could Toyota’s Creative Idea Suggestion System result in more than one idea per employee per month implemented decade after decade? The mature Lean system is all about people rapidly turning the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) cycle to improve processes daily. It is not a static model that you can implement and be done with.

In the Thinking Production System, everyone knows what Standard Work is and tries to improve it a little bit each day. Of course you may not be able to make changes to your process every single day, but you are thinking about it as you work. That is the key.
When abnormalities happen, and Visual Management devices such as Andons notify managers and engineers that root cause corrective action needs to be taken, here again it is people thinking rather than computers or software systems that drive improvement.
Toyota takes the long view and invests in their people, and this is one thing requirement of TPS. Corporations driven by short term profit and quarterly results will struggle in implementing the Thinking People System. The Toyota Production System may be easier to implement for these organizations.

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