Does Lean Manufacturing = The Toyota Production System?

There is a very interesting discussion over at the Lean blog today in the post To Merge or Not To Merge…Lean & TPS. There were nine reader comments as of tonight, with many good viewpoints on the question of whether the articles on “lean manufacturing” and “Toyota Production System” should be merged as Wikipedia entries.
They should not.
The first is a descriptive label for the second, and a poor one at that. The second is still evolving, and will outlive the moniker of “lean”.
A bit of historical perspective:
About three decades ago QC Circles which Deming helped launch in Japan, and which survive as a vital part of the Toyota Production System to this day, became TQC and then was imported back into the United States at TQM. It was a great system. It was not implemented well at all in most cases. It was the tusk of the elephant.
Two decades ago the West saw what Toyota was doing and understood it as “jut in time”. Again, most implementations of just in time left a bitter taste in people’s mouths. That was the trunk of the elephant.
Then the buzz about kaizen started between 15 and 20 years ago, depending on which guru you credit with bringing it to the Western consciousness. Great stuff, again but just the ear of the elephant.
Others latched on to kanban as an early, if incomplete descriptor of the Toyota Production System. I heard this story, tragicomic as it is, from a very senior west coast Lean practitioner named Mike who attended a seminar with Taiichi Ohno, one of the very few that he gave on American soil. It was organized by a company called Productivity, who have done many great things for learning about TPS. The topic was “kanban”, because this is what the organizer at Productivity understood the Toyota Production System to be at that time. According to Mike, Taiichi Ohno’s presentation went something this:

“Here is a kanban card. Here is another kanban card.”

What a phenomenal waste. All because we asked a brilliant man to tell us about the wonders of the elephant, but since we only knew the elephant by it’s tail, we insisted that he teach about the thin leathery swishy bit.
So what will Lean manufacturing look like to us 10 years from now?
We are debating the wrong things. To extend the metaphor, we are not interested in elephants, but in herds of elephants, entire ecosystems on the savanna, the entire cycle of life and death.
We should never stop exploring things that are bigger than us, and by giving complex things simple names in an effort to understand them, we risk being intellectually lazy.


  1. Ram

    January 16, 2007 - 5:33 am

    Hi Jon,
    Thanks for all the good work and educating people like me.
    Hers’ my thought about TPS and Lean: TPS is Lean Manufacturing, but not all Lean Manufacturing is TPS.

  2. Mark Graban

    January 16, 2007 - 3:40 pm

    Thanks so much for chiming in Jon!

  3. Ron

    January 16, 2007 - 8:25 pm

    Perfectly put Jon. I agree 100% with you and cannot wait to use the Ohno story in an upcoming training session. I hope you don’t mind! Cheers, Ron

  4. Bertrand Chauveau

    January 19, 2007 - 3:09 pm

    TQM, Lean, TPS, 6 sigma, lean-sigma, QRQC… what’s the next up-to-date wording to show off at meeting coffee breaks.
    Do not focus on the name you put on what you do. It all comes down to waste reduction and increasing outputs.
    Some 25 years ago, back at technical school, people laughed at “a place for everything, everything at its place” boards posted on the shop floor. Now, we all are impressed by 5S deployment because it is the root of TPS. It is the way of mind that makes the success of a TPS deployment, not the word one uses.
    Toyota has still to learn. They know it perfectly well and are working hard on it. We are speaking of continuous improvement. But what about doing things right the first time? With regards to productivity and logistic, Toyota has more to teach than learn. With regards to quality systems, Ford and VW are also big players. ISO/TS 16949 global quality standard is derived from their own system respectively for production launches and production control. TPS is about eliminating wastes. It pushes people to analyse mistake encountered in order to prevent reoccurence. Ford and VW system is about preventing mistake before it actually happens.
    Reducing waste is a day to day attitude. As Jon rightly put, we are not interested in the trunk of the elephant but in the entire cycle of life and death. Do not wait for Toyota to release the next “TPS XP professional” CDs, simply grasp their philosophy.
    By the way, did you turn off the light when you left that other room?

  5. Richard

    January 28, 2007 - 8:35 pm

    I thought I would chime-in on the comment about Lean, TPS and Kaizen. Most, if not all Lean techniques/methodologies have evolved/derived from Toyota after many years of trial and error on the part of Mr. Ohno and others (managers, supervisors and manchine/line operators) in Japan to arrive at what we see today as TPS.
    Dr. Deming also had a significant influence upon Japanese management in general which is still quite evident in Japanese management thought and actions. For example, think about the Toyota house diagram and its two pillars. One represents quality and the other respect for people.
    As for Kaizen aspect of TPS (involvement of workers in contributing improvement ideas), it appears that this is not uniquely a Japanese methodology. It appears now, that this was an idea also imported into Japan after WWII from the US via the Training Within Industry (TWI) Program developed here under the direction of the War Department. The TWI Program was designed to increase war material production output in the US to meet our needs and those of our allies. The program had three core programs designed specifically for supervisory staff on the production floor that included Job Instruction (JI), Job Methods (JM) and Job Relations (JR). I believe the JM manual points this conclusion? Through Job Methods training, it was the responsibility of the supervisor to continually look for ways to improve processes.
    If you are further interested in this topic you should go to: It is rich with info on TPS history and other matters concerning TPS.
    Sorry for the dissertation.

  6. Deepak Sleeba George, Kochi

    February 22, 2008 - 12:56 am

    Lean manufacturing is the production of goods using less of everything compared to traditional mass production: less waste, less human effort, less manufacturing space, less investment in tools, less inventory, and less engineering time to develop a new product. Lean manufacturing is a generic process management philosophy derived mostly from the War Manpower Commission which led to the Toyota Production System and also from other sources. It is renowned for its focus on reduction of the original Toyota ‘seven wastes’ in order to improve overall customer value but has some key new perspectives on how to do this. Lean is often linked with Six Sigma because of that methodology’s emphasis on reduction of process variation (or its converse smoothness) and Toyota’s combined usage (with the TPS). Toyota’s steady growth from a small player to the most valuable and the biggest car company in the world has focused attention upon how it has achieved this, making “Lean” a hot topic in management science in the first decade of the 21st century.