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The Top 10 Titans of TPS

By Jon Miller Updated on May 16th, 2017

Sean asked an interesting question:

Who would you consider to be the titans of the TPS? Certainly, there was Ohno and Shingo, but is there anyone else that should be on the list?
I like to connect the history to people because it shows that the Lean philosophy did not come down from the mountaintop; it was created by people working and improving every day.

This list of the top 10 titans of TPS is highly subjective and is organized in loose historical order, not in ranking by importance. It’s a top 10 list, but we cranked it up to 11. And there are 12 people on the list, if you’re counting…

1. Henry Ford was the founder of the Ford Motor Company. He revolutionized repetitive manufacturing of automobiles through standardization of parts, the moving assembly line and continuous improvement or product and process. Inspired imitation by Toyoda family to build automobiles.

Words of this titan:

“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”

2. Sakichi Toyoda was and inventor, industrialist, and founder of Toyota Looms Works. He gave us the jidoka concept, inspired the Toyota Precepts and set the development of the Toyota Production System in motion.
Words of the titan:

“Everyone should tackle some great project at least once in their life.”

3. Charles R. Allen created and taught the methodologies which were developed into Job Instruction and eventually Training Within Industry during World War II. His book The Instructor, the Man, and the Job is mentioned several times in the TWI Report. He also wrote The Foreman and His Job with early examples of job breakdown for the foreman.
Words of this titan probably said, if not inspired:

“If the learner hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.”

4. Kiichiro Toyoda had the vision to exit the loom business and enter the automobile business. He studied modern manufacturing methods and coined the “just in time” production approach which became the second pillar of TPS along with jidoka. Kiichiro also demonstrated principle and leadership by resigning when his company was forced to reorganize and lay off a large number of people.

Quote in reaction to the theft of designs for Toyoda looms:

“They do not have the expertise gained from the failures it took to produce the original. We need not be concerned. We need only continue as always, making our improvements.”

5. Frank G. Woollard. Frank who? I learned of the amazing work of Frank Woollard only recently thanks to the book Bob Emiliani rediscovered and published recently, Principles of Mass and Flow Production. It was first published 55 years ago, and Woollard’s “Some Notes on British Methods of Continuous Production” dates all the way back to 1925. While it’s very possible that the TPS was an independent and parallel invention by Toyota and Woollard’s Morris Motors. Bob Emiliani makes a good case for Woollard’s work and writing being the direct inspiration for Kiichiro Toyoda and others. This could be the most controversial bit of news to hit the TPS community since… ever!

The unknown titan’s quote:

“The ideal of continuous flow must be present from the design and raw material stages up to and even beyond the sales stage.”

6. Eiji Toyoda had Taiichi Ohno’s back all the way as Ohno fought to change the basic way that Toyota manufactured automobiles, trained people and improved processes. Ohno explicitly credits Eiji Toyoda many times in his writing with making his work possible.

Words of this titan to his executives:

“I want you to use your own heads. And I want you actively to train your people on how to think for themselves.”

7. Frank Gilbrethand Lilian Gilbreth were thought leaders on efficiency improvement. They were cited repeatedly by my teachers as pioneers in practical industrial engineering, and they created the charming movie Cheaper by the Dozen which sometimes took efficiency comically a bit too far…
Quote from Mr. Gilbreth:

“No person with inner dignity is ever embarrassed.”

8. Taiichi Ohno was the man who drove the development and practical application of the Toyota Production System. He taught leadership by example, the 5 why process of root cause analysis, and the relentless kaizen spirit to many.

“Costs do not exist to be calculated. Costs exist to be reduced.”

9. Edwards Deming brought statistical quality control, the PDCA cycle and an entire management philosophy of quality to the Japanese. He had earlier brought the same to the Americans, but we didn’t listen…
Titan’s quote:

“It is not necessary to change, survival is not mandatory.”

10. Kaoru Ishikawa made statistical quality improvement tools practical and applicable by identifying the 7 QC Tools as the most accessible and useful to QC Circles. Invented the Ishikawa Diagram, a.k.a. Fishbone Diagram or Cause and Effect Diagram.


“Quality control begins and ends with education.”

11. Peter Drucker. Where to start with this man’s contribution… We could say that he wrote the book on modern management. In fact he wrote 39. The results of his in-depth 2-year study of GM was published in 1946, titled Concept of the Corporation. It was not well-received by GM, but the instruction on how GM might shore up weak spots across its enterprise was certainly were not lost on Japanese automobile manufacturers fighting to catch up with GM and Ford. Drucker promoted the concept of the knowledge worker and consulted with many companies and senior executives, including Shoichiro Toyoda.

Three of many great quotes:

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

Runners up, the next 10 or members of the top 20 Titans of TPS:

Eli Whitney
– gave us standardized, replaceable parts
Frederick Taylor – took the first steps in the scientific (?) study of work
Walter Shewhart – Deming’s teacher, invented modern statistics
Joseph Juran – quality guru
H.W. Heinrich – safety first!
Shigeo Shingo – consultant to Toyota, wrote many books on TPS
Kikuo Suzumura – Taiichi Ohno’s enforcer and right hand man
Genichi Taguchi – made design of experiments accessible
Noriaki Kano – created a model to place the focus on customer needs
Chihiro Nakao – arguably Ohno’s most successful living student

  1. Panu Kinnari

    February 9, 2009 - 11:12 am

    I heard an opinion that it was actually Taguchi who was ‘father’ of Japanese quality, not Deming. As Taguchi’s work was published before Deming first time set foot in Japan.

  2. Chet Marchwinski

    February 9, 2009 - 1:03 pm

    This is an interesting question and the response is very informative, especially about Wollard. I agree with the list of titans mentioned and would like to add another key influencer for consideration: Thomas Blanchard in 1822 rigged 14 machines at the Springfield Armory in the U.S. to progressively make rifle gun stocks with no manual labor. He might not be in the same category with all the above giants, but it was a milestone in the development of lean.
    There is a timeline called “Breakthrough Moments in Lean” from the Lean Enterprise Institute (Full disclosure, I work for LEI.) But if the group is intested, I can give the moderator a pdf to post for download. (Everyone will save $5.) I think people will find it interesting. It begins in the 1500s at the arsenal in Venice.

  3. Jon Miller

    February 9, 2009 - 1:15 pm

    Hi Panu,
    I agree that Taguchi has certainly been very influential. Deming is more famous and benefits from being the “foreign” expert also.
    Hi Chet,
    Thanks for the introduction to Thomas Blanchard. It sounds like he is a pioneer in the man-machine separation aspect of jidoka.
    Here is the PDF on Breakthrough Moments in Lean has generously shared with our readers by the Lean Enterprise Institute: LeanTimeline08.pdf. It’s also been featured on it’s own blog post today.
    Charles R Allen’s book
    We found a Allen’s book The Instructor, the Man and the Job as a scanned file (215MB PDF) available for download. Follow this link and look for the flashing image on the left side of the screen.

  4. Harish

    February 9, 2009 - 5:45 pm

    Hi Jon,
    I have the same question about Lean Manufacturing. Who all will be in your list?

  5. Jon Miller

    February 9, 2009 - 6:44 pm

    Hi Harish,
    The list would be the same.

  6. Dane Bohnert

    February 22, 2009 - 9:40 am

    Hello Jon, very good list. There would never be absolute consensus regarding THE top 10 of TPS, yet I would contend that Shigeo Shingo must be in the top 5. His book “A Study of the Toyota Production System” is one of the best book written on TPS. Shingo worked very closely with Ohno in developing small batch flow within Toyota. He introduced SMED and helped Ohno implement kanban. Therefore some may even say that TPS would be nothing without Shingo’s contributions.
    Jon, I don’t want to sound critical, because I have read many of your articles and found them to be top-rate; I just think Shingo deserves a lot more credit that he is generally given.

  7. Jon Miller

    February 22, 2009 - 10:15 am

    Hi Dane,
    I do agree with you that Shigeo Shingo gave us a lot of insight into TPS through his books. There is a very different understanding of Shingo’s role and contribution in the development of the TPS between people at Toyota and those of us who have read his books in English. I would refer you to two articles by Art Smalley, formerly of Toyota, on his investigations in this matter. I recommend visiting downloading an article titled A Brief Investigation into the Origins of the Toyota Production System.
    This is an excerpt from Shingo’s Influence on TPS , Art Smalley’s interview with Isao Kato who knew Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo well.
    Start excerpt:
    Art: So his biggest contribution was not in the area of set up reduction (SMED)?
    Mr. Kato: Actually no. There is a lot of historic misrepresentation and miscommunication of the facts regarding that topic. Toyota was already reducing set up time before he came to the company. Just using the simple eliminate, combine, rearrange, and simplify (ECRS) framework from our TWI Job Methods training course Toyota had already brought die change times down from four hours to one hour and 40 minutes for example without any outside help.
    Art: But didn’t he famously reduce a 1,000 ton changeover press from over four hours to under 3 minutes or some level in Toyota?
    Mr. Kato: Somehow this fact has continually been mistaken and misrepresented over the years in various books and articles. Mr. Shingo’s single minute die exchange accomplishments were all accomplished outside of Toyota in other companies on smaller machines. Toyota had been working on its own to reduce its longest change over time on it largest press and succeeded in reducing it from four hours to around one hour and 40 minutes. One day Mr. Ohno asked Mr. Shingo to look at this current changeover process and give us ideas on how to reduce it to under ten minutes. Mr. Shingo studied the problem and shared with us his distinction between internal and external work and the framework. It made sense but didn’t immediately solve any of the current problems.
    Art: So he didn’t actually invent or implement SMED at Toyota?
    Mr. Kato: He gave us some specific suggestions to work on and those ideas plus some others that a team was concurrently working on helped to reduce set up time from one hour and forty minutes it down to just about forty minutes. That was as far as they were able to reduce the time however during that particular workshop and it was his only real involvement in reducing changeover time at Toyota. Eventually several years later the engineers on their own with Mr. Ohno’s constant prodding were able to get the time under ten minutes but it was without Mr. Shingo’s direct help. He did provide some earlier advice however. Unfortunately this sequence of events has been misrepresented over the years somehow.
    End excerpt.
    So no disrespect whatsoever to Mr. Shingo but I didn’t feel it was appropriate to include him in the top 10 with others who developed the foundational thought and application of TPS.

  8. Dane Bohnert

    August 20, 2009 - 3:17 pm

    Hi Jon, your points are good. I have read many of Art Smalley’s articles, including the one you mentioned (I actually read it after my post above). Great info…my knowledge of Toyota history is trivial compared to Mr. Smalley’s. I actually worked for Toyota in Supplier Development out of Princeton, and Shingo’s book I mentioned was required reading in my group. From a technical perspective, Mr. Shingo was top-notch, but I probably over-estimated his contributions.

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