Lean Manufacturing Mantras

By Jon Miller Published on June 6th, 2006

One of my favorite Lean manufacturing moments was when a group of highly intelligent and committed Lean leaders from an American industrial giant that we took to Japan realized that the excellent company we were visiting had no idea what a value stream map was, had never heard of six sigma, and were making do just fine with only 3 out of the 5S.
To boot, this company was calling their world class Lean manufacturing effort TQC (Total Quality Control) and had been calling it that for decades. They never got the memo about the TQM upgrade, I guess. This company in rural Japan that nobody has heard of is profitable in spite of the China price, filled with smiling people, accident free, and virtually defect-free. It was like watching a group of comparative religion professors meeting a poor Buddhist monk meditating happily.
It’s tempting here to go sideways into the Lean manufacturing equivalents of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, but perhaps another time. In Buddhism Mantras are words you repeat over and over in order to keep yourself from getting distracted by thinking. The purpose of mantras is not to read them and talk about their meaning, but to use them as aids in mindfulness and meditation. Buddhists use mantras as mental guides to get your closer to your goal of ending suffering.
Plan, Do, Check, Act. Genchi gembutsu. Muri, mura, muda. Sort and Straighten. Takt, Flow, Pull. Don’t discuss them or think too hard about them, just repeat them over and over. Keep the mantra simple, keep the thinking clear, get more done.

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