Re-Translating Lean from Its Origin | Jun Nakamuro | LinkedIn

“The world first became aware of TPS (The Toyota Production System) when Taiichi Ohno published a book about his groundbreaking efforts at Toyota. It was published in Japan in 1978. The Japanese version of his book wasn’t translated into English until 1988. Since ten years had passed, this translation did not fully communicate the nuances of Ohno’s vision. ”

Sourced from LinkedIn

Michel Baudin‘s comments: I have also argued for recovering the nuances of TPS that have been lost in translation, whether these losses are due to incompetence or obfuscation, in the following posts:

In his article, Nakamuro bemoans the “decades of confusion” caused by our collective failure to translate Taiichi Ohno’s thoughts accurately. According to him, Ohno frequently called different ideas or methods by names that sound identical but are written differently, which strikes me as a poor communication strategy, if your goal actually is to make yourself understood.

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The Toyota Way 2001: the Necronomicon of Lean

Unlike Jeffrey Liker’s 2004 The Toyota Way, The Toyota Way 2001 is not a publication but an internal company document distributed to US employees, who were not supposed to reproduce it. 12 years on, many consultants are quoting it, borrowing its terminology, and describing it as representing the essence of Lean. It is floating around, but it is still not readily available. If you google it, you find plenty of inquiries about it, but the document itself does not pop up. Unlike the Necronomicon, however, it does exist.

I have read it and my reaction was as follows:

About the document as a whole

It’s only 14 pages long, and probably worked as a “wrapper” for the methods Toyota employees were already using.  As a stand-alone document, however, it’s not that useful, as it does not clearly state what is special about the company. Based on its content alone, it would be difficult to tell the Toyota Way apart from other corporate philosophies like the HP way. A manager of a mid-size traditional plant, reading The Toyota Way 2001, would reasonably conclude that all he or she needed to do to emulate Toyota was follow its recommendations. With all the wheels that would have to be reinvented, this approach in such a plant might yield results in, say, 60 years.

In his introduction, Fujio Cho, then president of Toyota, describes the document as a statement of the company’s “DNA” and applicable everywhere in the world. The five major headings that follow — Challenge, Kaizen, Genchi-Genbutsu, Respect, and Teamwork — have come to be often used outside of Toyota, for example as a structure to explain why middle managers don’t practice A3 thinking.

A collection of quotations

The introduction is followed by a breakdown of each of these five headings, leading, for each subtopic, to a paragraph or two of explanations followed by a series of quotations from Toyota executives, including three Americans. I counted 73 quotations, which really make up the bulk of the document. The sources are as follows:
Sources Quotes
Eiji Toyoda 19
Kiichiro Toyoda 12
Alex Warren   9
Taiichi Ohno   9
Sakichi Toyoda   6
The Toyoda Precepts   4
Robert B. McCurry   3
Shoichiro Toyoda   2
Yale Gieszl   2
Hiroshi Okuda   2
Akira Takahashi   1
Declaration between TMC and Workers’ Union, 1962   1
Shotaro Kamiya   1
Taizo Ishida   1
Yukiyasu Togo   1
Total 73

Except for two quotes by Hiroshi Okuda, who was still running the company in 2001, all the authors were either retired or dead; Okuda himself retired in 2006.  With the exception of Fujio Cho in the introduction, the document does not reference any current leader. Eiji Toyoda, the most quoted author, is founder Sakichi Toyoda‘s nephew and will turn 100 this September. The second most quoted is Kiichiro Toyoda, who started Toyota in car manufacturing but died in 1952. The man best known outside Toyota as the father of the Toyota Production System, Taiichi Ohno, is only in 3rd place, with nine quotes. 80% of the quotes are from Japanese sources, and 53% are from three generations of the Toyoda family.

Influence of the US Lean movement

Outside of the quotes, the subtitles and the summary paragraphs use terms like “Lean,” “DNA” and “value” that are from the American Lean  literature. “Value” is used in multiple senses, sometimes for ethical principles as in “values and beliefs,” and other times as an abstraction of what the company delivers to its stakeholders, listed as “customers, shareholders, associates, business partners and the global community.”  The order in the sequence obviously matters, but there is a contrast with the US Lean literature and its exclusive focus on customers.

“Value added” appears once, in a definition of Muda as “no value added.” In the Japanese literature, Muda is not defined, and used in its common, everyday sense of “unnecessary.” “Added value” is used four times, and designates a quantity that can be high or low, as in  “goods and services with high added value.”  While it is not explicitly stated, this usage is consistent with added value being the difference between sales and the materials, energy and outsourced services consumed in producing the goods sold. This is the metric used to compute productivity, contribution to GDP, and Value-Added Taxes in countries that charge them. There is no reference to “value added” as an attribute of activities that customers are willing to pay for.

Improvement versus optimization

There is a reference to “Optimization,”  which surprised me, as I see the optimization mindset is antithetical to continuous improvement. Once you have optimized something, then, by definition, no more improvement is possible. I have heard managers say “We’ve optimized this line…” as a way to say that they had moved on to other areas and would not address glaring problems that remained. With continuous improvement, on the other hand, the completion of an improvement step is not an occasion to declare “mission accomplished”; it just sets up the stage for the next step.

Remarkable quotes

Following are comments on a few of the quotes in the document that I found most striking.

Eiji Toyoda on time

Eiji Toyoda is quote as saying: “A person’s life is an accumulation of time – just one hour is equivalent to a person’s life. Employees provide their precious hours of life to the company, so we have to use it effectively, otherwise, we are wasting their life.”

It  builds on the famous Benjamin Franklin quote  “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.” (‘Poor Richard’s Almanack, June 1746). But Franklin’s exhortation is for individuals and about themselves. The twist Eiji Toyoda adds is that the company should not squander its employees‘ time, and the reason given is not that it is paid for, as Taylor would have said, but that it is a piece of that person’s life. I don’t recall seeing such an expression of respect for humanity in the American management literature.

Taking this further, if we squander an employee’s time, we are also sending a message. We are telling the employee that we can afford to waste his or her time and therefore that it is worthless. And since that is “the stuff life is made of,” the employee’s life is worthless, so that the final message is “You are worthless.” It is difficult to imagine a  more disrespectful or insulting stance.

Most discussions of respect for humanity in TPS are about making full use of employees’ skills, and, in particular, their intellectual and creative abilities. What Eiji Toyoda says here is that it is also about their time.

Squeezing water out of a dry rag

About Kaizen, Eiji Toyoda is quoted as saying “Even a dry towel can produce water when ideas are conceived.”

In Japan, I had heard it said admiringly of Toyota that “they could squeeze water out of a dry rag,” (乾いている雑巾を絞ると水が出る) but I didn’t know it was a quote from Eiji Toyoda. And it was about rags, not towels.  I suppose the translator just thought “towel” sounded more professional, but “rag” is more true to life.

About software and manufacturing

Eiji Toyoda is also quoted as saying “Why make only software? Software exists only because there is product manufacturing.”To this resident of Silicon Valley in 2013, it is obvious that, even though Photoshop and Netflix are not made of materials you can touch, they are as tangible as goods and services as cars and oil changes.  I understand why a man born 100 years ago who spent his life growing the best car manufacturing company in the world would feel that way, but, on this one, I respectfully differ.

JIT and GM

 Kiichiro Toyoda is quoted as writing the following about JIT in 1938:

“I plan to cut down on the slack time within work processes and in the shipping of parts and materials as much as is possible. As the basic principle in realizing this plan. I will uphold the ‘just·in.time’ approach. The guiding rule is not to have goods shipped too early or too late.”

In 1927, 11 years earlier, this is what GM’s Alfred P. Sloan said in a speech on the same subject:

“The quicker merchandise can be moved from the raw material to the ultimate consumer and the minimum amount of merchandise, of whatever it may consist, involved in the ‘float,’ the more efficient and more stable industry becomes.” Speech to Automobile Editors of American Newspapers, 9/28/1927.

Of course, stating a goal and achieving it are two different things. Alfred P. Sloan was the manager who led GM back from near bankruptcy to overtake Ford in the 1920s, become the largest car maker in the world until that position was snatched by Toyota. He knew that JIT was worth pursuing but, for all his management savvy, he was not able to make it happen.

Standardization and the “Best Way”

The document includes a  quote from Alex Warren that describes standardized work as the best known way to complete a job.  Art Smalley and Mike Rother  disagree, specifically with the notion that this is the way standardized work is used within Toyota. To Art Smalley, the standard is a basis for comparison; to Mike Rother, a target condition. I consider Standardized Work to be just a set of rules published for the purpose of ensuring that different people perform the same tasks in the same way. Because it has to be enforced, it is more than a basis for comparison, and it cannot be a target.  While it may be the best known way, describing it as such is hardly a way to encourage improvement.

The risks and benefits of publishing your “way”

A document of this type about the way a company does business gives employees a framework to understand management decisions and business processes.

The challenge in publishing it — even if only for employees — is to actually say something without binding management to courses of action that may become inadequate as business conditions evolve. When crises occur, as it did for Toyota in 2010, management is easily accused of having acted in contradiction to the company’s way by expanding too fast. HP is likewise blamed for having strayed from the “HP way.”

By definition, the Toyota Way is what Toyota says it is. But the Toyota Way 2001 document is intended to serve a specific purpose for the specific audience of Toyota employees in the US. As outsiders, we must consider it on its own merits and see what use we can make of it as a stand-alone document, taken out of context. My read on it is that it is misleading for readers who are just starting their Lean implementation in that they may believe that all they have to do is continuous improvement with respect for people.

Absence of “Value Added” in the TPS literature

When improving operations, the only distinction of practical relevance is between necessary and unnecessary activities (See Occam’s Razor… and Whack-a-Mole). It really doesn’t matter whether they physically transform a product or whether a hypothetical customer would be willing to pay for them; the only thing that matters is whether they are needed to get the job done. Eliminating the unnecessary means getting the right things done, or being effective. The step after that is getting these things done right, or being efficient.

The American literature on Lean is centered on Value Added — defined as “what the customer is willing to pay for.” As I indicated, this is not the case for the Japanese literature or even the American literature on the Toyota Production System (TPS). I listed some examples from my personal library in Occam’s Razor…, and would like here to give more specifics.

“Value Added” in the TPS Literature

The following books on TPS — ranging in vintage from 1977 to 2009 — contain no reference that I could find to value added:

  • Fundamental Principles of Lean Manufacturing, Shigeo Shingo (1977). The English title contains “Lean Manufacturing,” a term that wasn’t coined until a decade after this book came out. Shingo’s title translates to “Original intent of plant improvement” (工場改善の原点的志向).
  • Zero Inventories, Robert W. Hall (1983). This was the first book in English to cover the technical content of TPS. ‘Doc’ Hall is an American academic, who researched Japanese sources. He is still active today in the AME, and was inducted in the Manufacturing Hall of Fame in 2012.
  • Kanban, Just-In-Time at Toyota, JMA (トヨタの現場管理:カンバン方式の正しい進め方, 1985). This is based on training materials from one of the oldest manufacturing consulting firms in Japan.
  • The Evolution of a Manufacturing System at Toyota, Takahiro Fujimoto (1999). Fujimoto is an academic who studied the emergence of TPS in the history of Toyota and, in the process, explains many details of its development in the 1990s.
  • The heart of introducing TPS (トヨタ生産方式導入の奥義)Mikiharu Aoki (2009). The author left Toyota in 2004 after 26 years to become a consultant. He is still in his fifties, and what he describes is not your grandfather’s TPS. Still, there is not a word about value added.

There are mentions of value added in a few books on TPS, but they are brief and no connection is made with customers’ willingness to pay. In these books, what is called “value added” is what physically transforms the product, a definition that, incidentally, has its own problems. Following are the books I have on TPS that contain a fleeting mention of value added:

  • Toyota Production System, Taiichi Ohno (トヨタ生産方式, 1978). “Value Added” is discussed on pp. 57-58, and that’s it: two pages out of a 132-page book. The English translation includes the following diagram, which does not quite match the Japanese original:


The original, Japanese diagram was as follows, with my  own annotations in red:


There are differences in both style and content:

      • The “Value-added work” caption in the translation does not make sense in its context and does not match the original, which is just one word, “sagyo” (作業) which just means work or operation.
      • The bullet lists in the translation do not match the starred captions in the original, which only contain the first two items. I don’t know why the translator added items to each list.
      • The original figure is in the style of a comic strip, which is almost standard for the Japanese literature on manufacturing. It is not intended to impress readers of the Harvard Business Review, but to communicate with people who read manga while riding trains to work.

One vital feature of this discussion is that it is exclusively about the breakdown of operator movements. It is not about materials handlers, managers or any kind of support groups, whose work is branded as intrinsically “non-value added” by managers who have read the US Lean literature.

Why this narrow focus on production operators? Most organizations have a subgroup of members who fill its purpose while all others support them. In a hospital, it is the surgeons; in aviation, the pilots; in the military, the shooters; in car racing, the drivers. In a manufacturing company, it’s the production operators. And their time is particularly precious because they work in sequence, so that, if you delay any one of them, you delay the entire production line. This is not true of the support staff, who work mostly in parallel.

Even in the restricted sense that he uses, if Ohno had felt that this was an important concept for TPS, he certainly would have used it elsewhere in his book. But he didn’t.

  • Toyota Production System, Yasuhiro Monden, 2nd Edition (1993). Monden is a professor of production management at Tsukuba University, who has been granted extensive access by Toyota. Value Added appears once, on p. 179 of this 423-page book, where he repeats what Ohno had written. 
  • 25 keywords of the Nissan Production Way (実践日産生産方式キーワート25, 2005). This book is about Nissan, not Toyota. Keywords 11-15, on pp. 62-83 are about “the pursuit of Value Added production” (付加価値生産)。 “Value-added tasks,” however, are simply defined as the ones that physically modify the product.
  • The Birth of Lean, Koichi Shimokawa and Takahiro Fujimoto (Ed.) (2009). There is one instance of “value added” on p. 52.
  • The Toyota Way, Jeffrey Liker (2003). On p. 27, it says “The first question in TPS is always ‘What does the customer want from this process?’ (Both the internal customer at the next steps in the production line and the final, external customer.) This defines value. Through the customer’s eyes, you can observe a process and separate the value-added steps from the non-value-added steps.”
  • Since “internal customers” are really downstream operations that don’t pay, the willingness-to-pay criterion is not applicable, which explains why Liker changes it to what the customer “wants from the process,” and it may not be a physical transformation. For example, what car assembly wants from painting inspection is the assurance that the bodies started on the final assembly line are free of paint defects.

    Later, on p. 89, the concept migrates to an engineering office. Finally, on p. 280, value-added work is “the actual transformation process core to the service that the customer is paying for.” So the willingness to pay that was excluded on p. 27 is back in, and so is the physical transformation, apparently mashing together the US Lean and Japanese TPS versions of value added. Again, this concept is only referenced in three of the book’s 330 pages, which strongly suggests that it is not important. Toyota is just not that into it.

Value Added in Lean

In light of this, why have American Lean authors focused on value-added? They zoomed in on a minor detail, changed the meaning from physical transformation to willingness to pay, and made it the foundation of Lean.

My personal guess is that they felt it necessary to attract decision makers under the influence of business schools and  uncomfortable with TPS plain talk. If we need to intellectualize the notion of waste elimination, however, we can do it in other ways, for example by stating as principle that a factory in never Pareto-optimal, meaning that it can always be improved.

In fact, it is fortunate that the concept of value added plays such a negligible role in TPS, because, as discussed in More Musings on Muda,  its definition in terms of physical transformation doesn’t withstand scrutiny much better than that in terms of willingness to pay. In particular, it is not applicable to anyone who does useful work that does not physically change a product.

In addition, in both senses, “value-added” is an attribute that an activities possesses or lacks. In economics or game theory, value added is a quantity of money.

In economics, the value added of a business is the difference between sales and external inputs, where the external inputs are materials, energy, and outsourced services. In other words:

Value\: Added = Sales - \left ( Materials + Energy + Outsourced\: Services \right )

This is the basis for Value-Added Taxes (VAT) in countries that charge them and. Aggregate it over an entire country, and you get its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Out of this Value Added, companies have to pay for people, facilities and equipment, and taxes. I have found this concept useful in several contexts. For example, a plant’s value added per employee is a better measure of productivity than sales per employee, because you can’t game it by outsourcing.

I have also found it useful to compare a company’s value added per employee with industry averages that you can retrieve from sources like the US Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Economic Census. But it is clearly not applicable to one production operator at one work station.

In game theory, the value added of a player is the amount by which his presence increases the size of the pot. A player who joins a poker table puts more chips in play. A company that sells software to run on a given hardware platform increases the value of this platform, while a competitor providing alternative hardware to run the same software reduces it. As explained in Brandenburger and Nalebuff’s Co-opetition, it is a useful concept in business strategy, but also irrelevant at the level of an individual work station.

Yet another use of the term is found in corporate finance, where the Economic Value Added (EVA)  is the difference between a company’s net, after-tax profits and its cost of capital.  The idea is that, unless a company has a positive EVA, its investors would be better off putting their money elsewhere.

None of these uses is applicable to a work station on the shop floor of a manufacturing plant, and there is no way any of them is connected to the notion of willingness to pay.

Focusing on what customers are willing to pay for is a direction that might be given to Marketing. Top management must of course be concerned with customers, but also with suppliers, employees, the local community, the environment,  local and national governments, not to mention creditors and investors.

Because TPS is a system that was developed by an actual company with all these stakeholders and more, it encompasses approaches to supply chain management, human resources, corporate social responsibility, and finance. In this context,  the notion that only activities add value only if customers are willing to pay for them is not helpful and is inconsistent with the more general usage of “value added”  as a technical term.

This “respect for people stuff”

The following two-minute dialogue between Jeffrey Liker and British consultant John Seddon has caused a stir in the US, primarily for Seddon’s saying “…all this respect for people stuff  is horseshit…”

Note: For a video of the full 45-minute session from which it is excerpted, see Panel discussion – Lean Ísland 2012 (08). The third participant in the conversation, the woman sitting between Jeffrey Liker and John Seddon is Yr Gunnarsdottir.

While dramatically stated, Seddon’s point is actually not that controversial. If you listen closely, he says that respect for people is not a “point of intervention,” meaning not a subject for which you bring in consultants or start projects. Mark Graban pointed out that he had never seen a company have a respect-for-people project, and I never have either. In his comments on Graban’s post, Rob van Stekelenborg writes “Still, more and more often I notice, Lean is attempted primarily as a leadership and a formalized (thru methods), bottom-up continual improvement effort without much attention for the strong industrial engineering roots it also has.” While I agree with Rob, I am not sure this is what Seddon meant.

Digging deeper, the following paragraphs quote some of my preferred authors/bloggers on the subject, with my own comments added:

Jeffrey Liker on Taiichi Ohno’s people skills

The video starts with Seddon asking Liker to rate Taiichi Ohno’s people skills  in a short answer, and Liker answers “terrible.” I would not have answered that. By whatever means he accomplished it, Ohno got thousands of people to work with him to develop and deploy the Toyota Production System, and it makes him only one in a long line of effective business leaders, sports coaches, and military commanders who don’t ooze charm from every pore.

My understanding of people skills is as the art of working with, through, and for other people and that the degree to which a person possesses these skills is measured not by their manners but by their achievements. Some of Ohno’s statements on people issues are surprising. Ohno’s open bursts of anger were not due to lack of self-control but were on purpose, as he explains on p. 93 of Workplace Management:

“I never get angry at the workers. However, with supervisors and above I will get very angry. The gemba is a convenient place to get angry at people. There is a lot of noise so they can’t really hear what l am saying. When I scold the supervisors on the gemba, the workers see that their boss is being yelled at and they sympathize with their boss.

Then it becomes easier for that supervisor to correct the workers. lf you call the supervisor away to a dark corner somewhere to scold him, the message does not get through. The gemba is a noisy place anyway, so if l am yelling at them and the person being scolded doesn’t really know why they are being scolded, this is okay. However, when the workers see their boss being scolded and they think it is because they are not doing something right, then the next time the supervisor corrects them, they will listen.”

For a higher-level manager never to scold workers is consistent with standard management practice going back to Sun-Tsu. On the other hand, that you should publicly scold supervisors for no particular reason in front of their subordinates to generate sympathy and make it easier for supervisors to do their jobs is a strange idea.  I have never done it, nor have I ever recommended it. In the plants I am familiar with, sympathy for supervisors among operators is in short supply, and a public scolding would do nothing more than undermine their limited authority.

Yet, I don’t think Ohno would write this unless it had worked for him as a manager at Toyota. As he explains, he was trained to praise in public and criticize in private, but he did the opposite on purpose. Had he failed, you could use this practice as evidence of terrible people skills, but he didn’t fail.

Art Smalley on the meaning of respect for people

Back in 2010, Art Smalley gave a detailed explanation of what respect for people means in the Toyota context, as he experienced it while working there. In a recent post on the ISPI conference in Reno, I wrote “Lean relies on people to improve operations, provides them with safe and secure jobs, and supports their professional development as a strategy for the company to gain market share, enhance profits, and grow.” While it was not my intention, I think it summarizes Art’s points.

Art also quoted the following excerpt from a TWI Job Relations training manual from World War II as evidence that it is not a new concern:

JR training manual excerpt

But we can dig further. In The Visible Hand, p. 69, Alfred Chandler quotes British textile expert James Montgomery writing in 1832, that “To assure good feeling and understanding, while guarding against too much lenity (modern: leniency) on the one hand, to be careful to avoid too much severity on the other, […] be firm and decisive in all measures, but not overbearing and tyrannical  — not too distant and haughty, but affable and easy of access, yet not too familiar.”

In other words, since the industrial revolution, advisers have been telling manufacturers that it was good business to show respect to their employees, but few have acted on this advice. Taylor’s “scientific management” went in the opposite direction, and so did Ford in its early assembly lines. It could be explained by the prevalence of immigrants from many different countries with limited education in the manufacturing work force of early 20th century America. But  in California 100 years later, Injex was using TPS to make auto parts for Toyota with great success and a workforce with 19 different nationalities and varied levels of education and English proficiency.

Mark Graban on Toyota, Respect for People, and Lean

On 2/26, Mark Graban wrote an extensive rebuttal of Seddon, to which I had also added the following:

In concrete terms, I have found disrespect easier to explain than respect. For example, giving a person a job that requires doing nothing 50% of the time is saying “your time is worthless,” and therefore “you are worthless.”  Many managers do not realize how disrespectful this attitude is, particularly where labor is cheap.

Ignoring complaints about minor safety issues, like sharp edges on a cart, is also showing disrespect. There are many such issues that must be addressed before asking people to participate in improvement and contribute ideas. The Frank Woollard quote in Bob Emiliani’s comment explains why you should pay respect to your people. It’s not about being nice. In the long run, you cannot compete unless your organization fires on all intellectual cylinders.

Frank Woollard was a British industrial engineer in the 1920s, and Bob Emiliani’s quoted him saying:

“This principle of ‘benefit for all’ is not based on altruistic ideals – much as these are to be admired – but upon the hard facts of business efficiency.”

In his article, Mark includes a photo of an exhibit at the Toyota museum, that contains the following text:

Toyota museum photo from Mark GrabanIt is in English, Japanese, and Mandarin, but the titles have slightly different meanings. The Japanese title means “Respect for Humanity,” not “Respect for People,” and the Mandarin title means “People-oriented.” To be even more specific, in Japanese, ningensei (人間性) means humanity in the sense of human nature, not humankind, which would be jinrui (人類).

On the other hand, the English paragraph is an accurate translation from the Japanese and clarifies the difference in the titles. Saying “please” and “thank you” is showing respect for people, but it does not imply any consideration for their specifically human sensory, intellectual and cognitive abilities.

I don’t know what the paragraph in Mandarin says, but it is visibly shorter than the other two. Mandarin is concise, but not this concise.

Rob van Stekelenborg on teaching respect for people

Rob van Stekelenborg,  blogging as Dumontis, also posted on this subject, introducing the new word “resp-act.” What Rob does here is go beyond general statements and give examples of how to show respect for people in situations involving suppliers, customers, or employees.

After all the theorizing on the true meaning of respect for people, it remains a vague and fuzzy guideline for anyone on a  shop floor today and tomorrow, and what Rob does to bring it into focus reminds me of the Critical Incident Technique I heard about from Steven Villachica at the ISPI conference.

Lean is from Toyota, not Ford, and not 15th-century Venice boat builders

Anywhere but possibly inside Japan, finding local roots for Lean is useful to defuse nationalism when implementing it, but it is also risky. You start by giving a local pioneer credit for what he actually did. Similarity of his insights with Lean then becomes enough to label him a “precursor.”  It may be a stretch, but it is a white lie, and it makes local engineers and managers so much more receptive! Further down this slippery slope, however, the local precursor becomes a “pioneer” and soon there is nothing to Lean beyond what he came up with, at which point his legacy impedes Lean  implementation more than it supports it. This is where Lean is attributed to Henry Ford.

In reality, while the founders of Toyota learned everything they could from foreign sources in early days, they and their successors are the ones who put the Toyota Production System (TPS) together and made it work, before the term “Lean Manufacturing” was coined. A Toyota alumnus told me that he never heard Toyota people claim they had invented anything; after all, they are in the car business, not the production system business. What is unique about their work is that they have integrated all the pieces — borrowed or not — into a system that outperformed the competition. As part of its 75th anniversary celebration, Toyota published the following illustration of its overall system:

From the Toyota 75th anniversary web site

From the Toyota 75th anniversary web site

They also published a detailed timeline of the development of TPS  from 1945 to 2005, highlighting the key challenges the company faced in each period, and the solutions it adopted in Just-In-Time and Jidoka. Each item has a short explanation in text, and is illustrated with cartoons, technical drawings, and photographs. It is an excellent and balanced account of the technical content of TPS, and I recommend going through it to understand how the pieces fit together.

Based on this timeline, other details contained in the 75th anniversary website, and a few other sources, I compiled the following summary, going back further in time, and emphasizing international exchanges. What I find most striking about this timeline is that the foreign inputs to TPS, primarily from the US and secondarily from Germany, were over by the mid 1950s, almost 60 years ago, and that, since the late 1970s, the flow is in the opposite direction, with the rest of world learning from Toyota.

History of Lean

TPS is still a work in progress. It has been and still is primarily an original development. The bulk of TPS has come from the minds of inventor Sakichi Toyoda, his son Kiichiro, engineers Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo, and hundreds of thousands of Toyota employees over decades. A trade secret until Toyota started training suppliers in the 1970s, TPS was revealed to the world with the publication of Taiichi Ohno’s book in 1978.

The American influence, particularly Ford’s, is readily acknowledged and played up in Toyota’s official literature. The German contribution, while not hidden, is in small print. Takt  is a central concept in TPS, and it came to Toyota from the Mitsubishi Aircraft plant in Nagoya, which had learned it from German aircraft manufacturer Junkers. After the subject of Takt came up in a LinkedIn forum a few months ago, I pulled on this linguistic thread to see what came out, and I was surprised by the magnitude of it, essentially a whole production system for aircraft, including some principles of supply chain management. It is summarized in the following blog posts:

Toyota’s study of automotive technology also included reverse engineering a 1936 DKW from Germany, and Toyota’s first postwar model, the 1947 SA, looked like a Volkswagen beetle.

Why Toyota designers chose to imitate this particular car at that particular time is another mystery, but not relevant to the key point here, which is that all of this borrowing from abroad is ancient history.

Wanna Sabotage Your Lean Implementation Effort? Try This | Lonnie Wilson | IndustryWeek

See on Scoop.itlean manufacturing

Most facilities that fail in a lean implementation have failed to create stable process flow. And by stable I mean statistically stable — a process that is predictable. (Wanna Sabotage Your #Lean Implementation Effort?

Michel Baudin‘s insight:

The way I read Lonnie’s article, he is saying that neglect of the engineering dimension of Lean manufacturing is the primary cause of implementation failure. I agree. It is a long article, but worth reading.

See on