Womack’s Lean versus Ohno’s TPS

By Ron Pereira Updated on September 1st, 2008

Harish, a reader of LSS Academy, recently sent the following question via email.

Dear Mr. Pereira,

I have been reading your insightful posts on TPS. I also came across your post on VSM. I have a quick question, of all the books I have read on TPS by Japanese authors, I have never come across VSM nor Value Stream Managers. I have seen similar methodologies like arrow mapping or process mapping in a few Japanese books.

I am curious as to the origin of VSM. I have read in Learning to See about it. Do you believe that there is Japanese version of lean (TPS) and there is US version (Jim Womack’s Lean Manufacturing)? Do you think these two differ a lot or are they the same?

Looking forward to hear your thoughts,


Regarding VSM… Toyota actually refers to value stream maps as material and information flow diagrams which probably explains why Harish has never read about them in any old Japanese books.

While the VSM question was excellent… I am totally intrigued by the last question:

“Do you believe that there is Japanese version of lean (TPS) and there is US version (Jim Womack’s Lean Manufacturing)? Do you think these two differ a lot or are they the same?”

First of all, I am very appreciative of all the good work people like James Womack and Jeff Liker have put out through the years. Womack’s Machine that Changed the World was the first “lean” book I ever read and I’ve often referenced Liker’s work over the years.

And while I have some strong opinions as to whether there is a difference between Womack’s “lean” (one of his research assistants actually coined the phrase lean) and the vaunted “TPS” I am more interested in your thoughts. What do think? Is there are a difference?

  1. Graham

    September 2, 2008 - 7:34 am

    I do think there is a difference but not in a bad way. I think Womack and others have brought an awareness that just didn’t exist for many years. With this said – I do think things have been “westernized” quite a bit.

  2. Peter Patterson, MD

    September 2, 2008 - 10:03 am

    Do we imagine that Womack set out to develop a separate body of Knowledge?
    Of course not.
    His team of researchers were trying to understand a (very) successful foreign company’s way of operating such that for a given output they consumed 1/2 the resources, etc.
    Any differences are mostly due to superficial knowledge appropriate to beginner students. Does anyone remember when the success of TPS was considered explainable by QC Circles … then by JIT … and so on??
    Like Graham says, we’ve had to give inherently Japanese concepts and words an American English translation and its an approximation – something does get lost in translation.
    /Dr. Pete

  3. Ron Pereira

    September 2, 2008 - 9:16 pm

    Thanks for the comments, gents.

    My personal thoughts are that Womack, et al have done a tremendous amount of good with their work. I wouldn’t be where I am today, professionally speaking, without the things I’ve learned from them.

    I’ve never worked for Toyota so cannot really speak for how ‘different’ things are. However, from the studying I’ve done reading people like Ohno I do feel as though Womack and crew have focused more on the “tools of lean” instead of the softer, and I dare say more important, side of lean such as respecting people and asking why, why, why, why, and why.

  4. Owen Berkeley-Hill

    September 3, 2008 - 9:13 am

    I would counsel against analysing the differences between Lean and TPS. This can only lead to a theological discussion about the competing toolkits, and possibly sectarian strife. There is far too much copying of the Toyota Toolkit without understanding why each tool was developed: what may apply in automotive or in the Japanese culture, may be inappropriate in a completely different environment. For example, Henry Ford’ s contribution to Lean was the moving production line: bringing work to the person; not making the person go to work (the waste of movement). This is a great principle, but highly inappropriate in a hospital: would you like to be a patient on a bed which moved down a dragline from medical station to medical station?

    The real question we should be asking ourselves is whether both Lean Thinking (I hate that term “Lean Manufacturing”) and TPS (I prefer TBS)deliver the waste reduction, the quality improvement, and the consequential cost reductions which will allow us to survive in the volatile environment we have today. Do they encourage every colleague to be enthusiastic about continuous improvement (kaizen)? Do they help us see waste? Do they develop the skills required for people to look at and tackle improvement opportunities in a structured way? Do they turn kaizen from something we do when we have the time, something we do naturally, without stress all the time? Do they help us all recognize the ravages of entropy? Eventually, do they turn kaizen from a Japanese expression to a positive form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

    Toyota has been a great example, but we must move beyond just mimicking what they have done and understanding why they did what they did. I’m not sure this could be measured, and one way of determining whether an organisation is lean would be to measure the gap between the knowledge of each individual, and the knowledge required to do their job: a Lean organisation would have a small gap between the two, but both growing as the organisation “kaizened” its people. Many lean transformations still rely on “Just Do It” whether this comes from management of the consultants.

    I hope this helps.

  5. JWDT

    September 6, 2008 - 9:57 pm

    From my view, Womack has heightened the awareness of the ‘tools’ of TPS/Lean. The rub I continually run into is the ‘tools’ mindset, when in fact you need the ‘problem identifying/solving’ mindset that provokes and promotes the Lean Management to support the advances the ‘tools’ gain companies.
    From my friends at Toyota, they concur the mindset is the biggest difference between the latest version of Lean (whether Womack, et. al., promoted this or not) that companies adopt & what actually exists at Toyota. At the end of the day my opinion is the the Culture of the Company you work for/at, has to adopt the basis and organically grow from their.

  6. Jon Miller

    September 9, 2008 - 2:03 pm

    Without taking anything away from people like J. Womack, J. Liker and J. Shook who have brought the TPS into the popular consciousness by writing books about and speaking about lean manufacturing, I do think lean manufacturing and TPS are two very different things.

    First, you can say that lean manufacturing is a subset of TPS, or more properly, the Toyota Way. As a manufacturing system or manufacturing system, the TPS has a huge human resource component, marketing component, product design aspect, business planning and execution approach, etc. undergirding it. The very fact that we have had to add “lean office” “lean design” “lean distribution” “lean management” etc. to the conversation is proof that the study of TPS resulting in the coining or branding of lean manufacturing was a partial one.

    Second, the Toyota Production System lives and belongs within Toyota. Any company emulating the TPS needs to study it deeply and then announce a never-ending commitment to developing the YOUR COMPANY business / operating / production System. Lean manufacturing is just a small part of it. Companies that do this are ridiculously successful.

    Third, lean is a brand, like Toyota is a brand. It gives people a choice. You don’t like Japanese words? Fine. A lot of people in the US don’t. Call it lean manufacturing. Or call it lean six sigma or call it TOC or anything else and dilute it as far as you want. You don’t have to drive a Toyota, but you do have to respect the world’s most successful business system and call it what it is: the Toyota Production System, not lean manufacturing. But only if you don’t want to fail.

    All that said, lean manufacturing is great. And it sure is a lot easier than the Toyota Production System.

  7. Owen Berkeley-Hill

    September 10, 2008 - 8:49 am

    Without detracting from anything Jon has said (I believe are, more or less, on the same page), I wonder why there isn’t the support for Lean that there should be. Books, websites, consultancies on Lean can be measured in roughly the same numbers as protons are being generated at CERN, and yet the “true meaning” of TPS is as obscure as the Higgs bosun. Why? I just do not subscribe to the theory that the people who rise above the snowline are stupid. But then why this inability to see the blindingly obvious? Scour any Lean or Six Sigma watering hole and you hear the fairly common bleat of Lean transformations dying because of a lack of management commitment
    To explore this further, I began a thread in the Forum at Lean.org which asked the question whether MBAs supported or opposed Lean. If you are interested: http://www.lean.org/FuseTalk/Forum/messageview.cfm?catid=72&threadid=3460&enterthread=y
    For a while, there were very few responses; perhaps I had discovered the elephant in the Lean room. I now see a pattern where hurt MBAs respond by stressing their support and understanding of Lean. Which is missing the point. Some of my best friends are MBAs, and I do believe their mothers do truly love them. But not one MBA has responded saying that he learnt all she/he knows about Lean through his MBA studies. In fact, Lean seems to have come as some form of revisionist afterthought, post MBA.
    If my hypothesis is correct (and it still has to be proven), Lean is a new management philosophy which cannot act as whitewash on existing Taylorist thinking. Nor can it be grafted on or, as Jon suggested, imbibed in diluted quantities. Perhaps we should be asking business schools to think again and develop and alternative to the MBA, the MLA.

  8. Harish

    September 12, 2008 - 5:20 am

    Dear Senseis,

    Thank you so much for taking time to answer my question, and thank you Mr. Pereira for posting my question.

    Taichi Ohno said that American go for the tools (Lean Manufacturing), and not the real philosophy (TPS) behind it. That can be the reason why only few companies succeed.


  9. JWDT

    September 19, 2008 - 9:59 pm

    Harish, interesting quote by Ohno, completely agree.

    Have you been reading Bob Emiliani’s Real Lean series? After reading his books, my belief is I have finally found an author who can articulate what I have been experiencing with each Lean “transformation” I have either led or participated on. When it comes down to it, the Lean Management System that needs to be implemented along with the rest of the Lean pieces, flies in the face of over 100+ years of accounting/finance which is the basis for most management systems in place today.

  10. Owen Berkeley-Hill

    September 20, 2008 - 6:10 am

    I am aware of Prof Emiliani and I did have the privilege of listening to him when he came to Cardiff for an alumni event a year ago. He is one of the few people who avoid the term “Lean Manufacturing” and refer to the subject as Lean Thinking. I have not seen his series on Real Lean.
    I agree with your thoughts on current accounting and financial analysis. The Ford Production System was accused by acountants of “destroying value” by making things lean. These were people who were located in the plants but had never or rarely visited the shop floor. There is a doughty band of people trying to revolutionise accounting philosophy, and I get various invitations to join them at Lean Accounting seminars, but I have not taken up the challenge yet. To my simple, de-frocked engineering mind, if accountants moved away from quantifying the value added during the production process, there might be more encouragement to make things Leaner. For example, if you take a blank casting, and machine it, the time and resource taken to machine is seen as adding value. This flies in the face of reality: would you get more for the blank or the partially machined casting if you had to liquidate the company? My guess is that the blanks would be worth more. So in my mind, the raw materials would be worth something, and WIP would be worth zip, or just the scrap value. If we thought like that perhaps the Lean movement would get a boost from the accountants.
    On the subject of gurus, I’d recommend Peter Scholtes, and the Leaders Handbook. Lean is not mentioned once, but it is probably the best book on the subject I have come across.

    Best wishes,

  11. Alexander Zubov

    September 29, 2008 - 12:46 pm

    1. Toyota Way is solving problems. Lean Way is coping answers (implementing tools).
    2. Toyota’s Kaizen is everyday activity of everyone. Lean Kaizen is project or kaizen blitz activity.
    3. To implement TPS you need leadership. To implement Lean you need just consultants and money.
    4. TPS Journey is unlimited. Lean Program comes to the end.

  12. Alexander Zubov

    September 29, 2008 - 1:08 pm

    I suppose MBA focuses people on winning battles. To implement TPS/Lean you should be Builder and Teacher, not Warrior.

    Best wishes,

  13. Kristi

    October 2, 2008 - 7:12 am

    Hello all,

    Firstly I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading all your comments, it’s made an interesting read during my lunch hour. Having never commented on these sites before, I am however now urged to comment as I disagree with one from Alexander (sorry!)

    To implement Lean Six Sigma and for it to succeed and be sustained, it is your work force, the grass roots of your company, the grafters, the shop floor personnel – whatever you’d like to call them, that you require. It is most definitely not consultants nor huge amounts of money!

    My personal view is that Lean Six Sigma is that once you have Senior Management behind the LSS culture change, it’s then about taping into the wealth of knowledge that companies have internally with their work forces and utilising their knowledge and experience with the appropriate tools and methodogoly of Lean Six Sigma to gain the improvements that the business requires. It’s a great approach and one that not only gives great cost reductions with minimal implementation cost but more importantly, boosts the morale of the employees who works within the business.

    LSS is a continuous improvement journey plus culture change and is one that never ends as it’s a wheel of fantastic change! :o)

    Best wishes

  14. JWDT

    October 2, 2008 - 8:20 pm

    I agree Lean is a cultural journey. The grass-roots of the floor help sustain, but in the end does not guarantee the success or sustainment. That is the job of leadership &/or management. It has been my experience most Lean cultures/implementations fail because the managers/leaders did not realize they needed to change. Another reason is the way the ‘savings’ are accounted for, if the method of keeping score does not change, the company will receive conflicting numbers and make erroneous decisions based upon this information.
    Great analogy of the differences between the MBA & TPS Leader, Alexander!

  15. Kristi

    October 3, 2008 - 3:48 am

    Hi JWDT,

    Thanks for your comments, they’re much appreciated but hey lets face it, nothing (excluding death) in this world is guaranteed and LSS is no exception to this.

    In my own experiences of helping to implement LSS into the company I work for, it requires people at all levels to become engaged for it to be successful and sustained. However, we found that you don’t necessarily need all management or shop floor on board to begin with but if you get a small few as yoru pockets of influence (kaizens are great for this), then a “ripple effect” can start to happen, then more people start to come on board to LSS, especially when they see the achievements and results that it can bring.

    Changing the culture wheel to LSS is the hardest task to overcome but I always say never underestimate the power of enthusiasm for getting people on board regarding continuous improvement ideas, as it can be a great tool to use in LSS!


  16. Owen Berkeley-Hill

    October 5, 2008 - 1:31 pm

    hi Alexander,
    I think it is a bit harsh to pit Lean against Toyota. I think the MIT group which began the study of Toyota and the books that followed were trying to blow away the myths which had built up around the Japanese as “super humans” since the late 70s.
    I remember the senior management in my company coming back from Japan after their “sushi run”, and nonsense developed by their bench marking attempts. As you can imagine, none of the findings included anything about the limitations of the management philosophy then common in the West, which was holding people back. After a flurry of short-lived activity (akin to headless chickens) we went back to the same old same old. This was in spite of the roasting these benchmarkers were given by Konosuke Matsushita, founder of Panasonic. (I can forward the text of Matsushita-san’s comments to Ron if anyone is interested.)
    Womack, Jones, et al did a great service to everyone interested in improving the way businesses were managed by cutting through the myths. Did they get every fact right about Toyota? Probably not, and I will concede that there is more to be learnt from Toyota and other well-managed companies (to only focus on Toyota might be a bit blinkered). From my experience, Lean is a great step forward in developing a new management philosophy, but the journey is not finished. I don’t think Womack and Jones can be blamed for the ways in which the essence of Lean has been distorted by some people.

  17. Alexander Zubov

    October 12, 2008 - 5:40 pm

    Hello, all

    Owen, I have no intention to pit Lean against Toyota or blame Womack and Jones. They made great work. They taught us to see value & waste and changed mindset of many people. But their five principles of Lean [(1) define value; (2) identify value stream; (3) make flow; (4) pull; (5) pursue perfection] are just principles of thinking. Initially they considered Lean namely as philosophy or method of thinking. Only with years and efforts of many other people Lean evolved into MODEL OF MANAGEMENT based on Toyota Production System. If you adhere to this definition, the difference between TPS and Lean is the same as between reality and its model. But as every model it is just some simplification of reality and reflects only some aspects of it. TPS House is another example of such simplification.

    The problem is that different people do have different perception of Lean in their minds. Too often (at least in my country – Russia) people believe that Lean is simply set of tools or some technology to reduce cost. Instead of changing management model, developing their employees and solving problems they aim just at implementation of lean tools. Majority of russian companies, which announced starting their Lean program, chose this way. In opposition to Toyota Way I called such wide-spread approach as Lean Way in my previous post. Though it could yield certain results, it leads aside from TPS.

    Kristi, I should rectify points 3 and 4.
    3. To implement TPS you need leadership. To implement Lean you need just consultants and money TO PAY FOR THEIR SERVICES.
    If you want to implement lean tools, most simple way to do that is hiring consultants or lean specialists. In this case you shouldn’t do anything except monitoring the progress and paying money for services.
    True goal of TPS/Lean is changing people. This is job of manager, not one of consultant or specialist. As lean leader you should teach people to see problems and solve them. And you should give them possibility to do that. In order to teach you need to develop your own ability to see problems and waste and incorporate Lean into your own practice. There is no shortcut and you cannot delegate this task to someone else.

    4. TPS Journey is unlimited. Lean Program comes to the end.
    Standard Work, Kanban, VSM and other lean tools were developed by Toyota people as responses to problems they met. Kaizen knows no limits only in those companies whose employees can see problems. If you simply try to copy answers (to implement tools), neither you nor your people will be able to see opportunities for improvement. You should learn to ask questions and to find your own answers in the first place. Otherwise your journey will finish after implementation of last tool, and you will be in need of looking for a new medicine.

    Best wishes,

  18. Owen Berkeley-Hill

    October 19, 2008 - 3:42 pm

    Reading you response, I don’t think we are a million miles apart. The Russian Managers who see Lean as a bag of tools are like the majority of managers in Europe and the US (and perhaps elsewhere) who want instant results. They see Lean as a “tick box” exercise which can be completed quickly. They are probably the biggest obstacle to going Lean.

    I would accept your comparison of Lean and TPS as the relationship between a model and reality. I believe George Box is quoted as saying, “all models are wrong, but some are useful”. I accept Lean as a useful “model” on which a new management philosophy can be built, the model being based largely on what we “outsiders” know about TPS. But I think we have suspended our ability to think if we believe TPS and only TPS is the way to manage. That way lies a sterile theological argument. John Bicheno has complied the Lean Toolbox, which is an excellent Lean primer for those who are begining their Lean journey. John takes an inclusive view of Lean, not just basing it on TPS (or should it be TBS?). In it you will find references to tools and techniques which come from all over the world. John has, for example, included TRIZ, which is Russian in origin! The theologist would cry foul saying that was not Lean, but it is an example which proves that good ideas are not tohe sole preserve of Toyota management.
    I have to declare an interest as John was my supervisor when I did my Masters in Lean at Cardiff, but I hope this helps clear up any misunderstanding.

  19. Paul

    January 17, 2009 - 11:34 pm

    The least cost method of manufacture is the Toyota Production System, there is no ambiguity in that statement and it is demonstrable. TPS consists of several parts and if you do not implement them all then you are not doing TPS. If you are manufacturing, utilizing the the least cost method, then, by definition, you are using TPS. Ohnoson did not know what VSM is nor did he care because he used what is called what he called a Poduct Matrix which is a spread sheet with all the parts of a product listed. Ohnoson used what we all know as Jidoka for his QC program which is the empowerment of the people on the shop floor to control quality and they were authorized to shut down any production line that was putting out junk.
    I could go on for hours buut will stop for now.

  20. Owen Berkeley-Hill

    January 18, 2009 - 9:21 am

    “The least cost method of manufacture is the Toyota Production System”.
    I do not disagree with that statement, and John Shook has said something similar recently.
    However, painful experince (of which I have my fair share) has taught me that if something can be taken out of context, it will by people who either don’t understand the principles behind Lean or TPS or have a distorting agenda. Why is the vast majority of managers and leaders obsessed with “off-shoring”? I believe because they want a quick fix, see Lean or TPS as too long winded and “difficult” (because it involves getting the best out of their people), and believe that out-sourcing to a low-wage ecomony is a quicker alternative. The cynic in me thinks that these same people know it is only a cosmetic solution, but by the time the chickens of their decision come home to roost they’ll be off to greater glory and some poor sap will have pick up the pieces.
    Deming, TPS, Lean (not sure about Six Sigma even though I’m a Black Belt) are pointers to an alternative management philosophy, which we are only just begining to understand. Unlike the natural sciences, engineering and technology, the understanding of “management” has been clouded by a zillion crack-pot books which many have dubbed the Heathrow Business School (for the simple reason they are meant to appeal to travellers who think they might spend sometime improving themselves while they are crossing the pond).
    Ford, Deming, Ohno, Shingo, Kano, Maslow, Herzberg, McGregor, the unknown heroes of TWI (perhaps even Taylor) and many, many more have tried to define this better philosophy. Not all the names are Japanese, so just pointing our prayer mats in the direction of TPS might be a tad blinkered: what works specifically in building cars may not be appropriate in other sectors or in hospitals. But the concepts of Waste and Value; the powerful and critical contribution of a healthy kaizen culture; and getting the whole workforce battling the ravages of Entropy (rather than bringing in the consultant) are some of the developments which have revolutionised our understanding of what is meant by Leadership.
    Is there a gap between Lean and TPS? Probably. Is the gap narrowing as our understanding of the essentials of TPS increases? Perhaps. Dialogues like this help, and may even nudge TPS to new heights. From my contacts with friends in Toyota, I get the impression they are one of the very few which would qualify as one of Peter Senge’s Learning Organisations, and that separates them from the rest of the herd. But there is no guarantee that Toyota may never suffer from organisational dementia, as for example Ford did for some of its history.

  21. Paul Akerman

    March 9, 2009 - 4:04 pm

    To all manufacturing academia,
    I think this is all you need in order to maufacture for the least cost. This is absolute genius.

  22. Thatchinamoorthy

    August 1, 2009 - 12:02 am

    Dear Harish

    What is the Significant difference between the TPS & Lean ?

    I Understand , both are required for the Organisation Growth .

    Can you clarify ?

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