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Lean Quotes Collection

by Mark Graban on June 9, 2006 · 93 comments

the library 200x300 Lean Quotes Collection leanA popular search term for people coming to the blog is “lean manufacturing quotes.” I’m not real big on using quotes and don’t have a ready collection handy, but I thought I would reach out to you, the blog readers. Maybe we can form a collection of quotes here for people to find and use?

I thinking of sayings and quotes from Toyota leaders (Shingo, Ohno, etc.) and some of the prominent lean writers and lean thinkers. You can either submit them by adding a comment below, or send them to me by clicking here. Please provide the source for the quote when you can.

Now, I don’t mean “slogans.” These aren’t things to be hung on the wall in a factory, like “Safety is YOUR job.” Those are demotivating, as Dr. Deming pointed out and I certainly agree with that sentiment.

I’m talking about good or pithy quotes that can be reminders or learning points for all of us.

You can easily come back to this page via www.leanblog.org/quotes.

Scroll down on this page to read the quotes that people have added as Comments to this post. That’s the collection.

mark graban lean blog Lean Quotes Collection leanAbout LeanBlog.org: Mark Graban is a consultant, author, and speaker in the “lean healthcare” methodology. Mark is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as the new Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. Mark is also the VP of Innovation and Improvement Services for KaiNexus.

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Today Would Have Been Taiichi Ohno’s 100th Birthday — Lean Blog
February 29, 2012 at 5:55 pm

{ 92 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous June 9, 2006 at 2:14 pm

“The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.” – Shigeo Shingo (Toyota)


2 Bill Waddell June 9, 2006 at 3:27 pm

My favorite Shingo Quote:

“We have to grasp not only the Know-How but also ‘Know Why’”, if we want to master the Toyota Production System”

My most frequently used Ohno quote:

“All we are doing is looking at the time line, from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing the time line by reducing the non-value adding wastes.”


3 Anonymous June 9, 2006 at 10:28 pm

“Fall seven times. Stand up eight.”
Old Japanese Proverb.

Found at the “Got Boondoggle” blog.


4 Anonymous June 11, 2006 at 2:24 pm

“If you see a snake, just kill it – don’t appoint a committee on snakes.”

Ross Perot, referring to GM. This could apply to lean, the “just do it” mentality of kaizen.


5 Anonymous June 12, 2006 at 12:28 am

You have to manage a system. The system doesn’t manage itself.

W. Edwards Deming


6 Karen Wilhelm June 12, 2006 at 9:12 am

My friend Terry Begnoche is fond of quoting Dr. Deming as having said “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” It provides needed consolation when it looks like you just can’t produce the results you want.


7 Mark Graban June 12, 2006 at 9:27 am

I’ve recently heard the Deming quote the same way. I always thought it would be more clear to say “A bad system will DEFEAT a good person every time.”

By “beat”, you might wonder if that means to “do better than.”

Someone might interpret that having any system, even a bad system, is better than relying on a skilled person.

The way the quote is intended though, is absolutely correct. Good people will struggle when being part of a bad system. Look at how many “good doctors” make mistakes in surgery. It’s not just “bad doctors” with a bad track record, it’s “good” doctors working in a bad system, where it’s easy to make mistakes and not catch them.


8 Joe Wilson June 12, 2006 at 12:11 pm

I don’t have the book in front of me, but in Workplace Management, Ohno said something similar to ‘the only place that work and motion are the same thing is the zoo where people pay to see the animals move around’. This strikes me mostly when I sit in meetings that take longer than necessary to derive consensus.


9 Chris John June 21, 2006 at 9:50 am

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” – Thomas Jefferson


10 Anonymous June 21, 2006 at 11:50 am

“You can act your way into good thinking faster than you can think your way into good actions.”


11 JB June 23, 2006 at 1:05 am

This one is for the Lean implementers out there…

“Your Lean Process should be a Lean Process.”

Pretty basic idea; but not so common in practice.


12 Anonymous June 27, 2006 at 7:03 am

“Progress is impossible without the ability to admit mistakes.” Imai


13 Anonymous June 27, 2006 at 7:04 am

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but habit.”



14 Anonymous June 27, 2006 at 8:28 am

Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.


15 Anonymous July 3, 2006 at 7:43 am

These are some of my favorite:

“Where there is no Standard there can be no Kaizen” Ohno

“Quick and Crude is better than Slow and Elegant”

On change: “Different isn’t always better…but better is always different”


16 Mark Graban
May 19, 2011 at 10:53 am

It was really Masaaki Imai who said the quote about standards and kaizen, at least in a documented way:

Imai wrote:

“Where there is no standard, there can be no improvement. For these reasons, standards are the basis for both maintenance and improvement”


Ohno might have agreed and Imai might have learned this from Ohno…


17 Mark Graban July 6, 2006 at 11:56 am

“We will win and you will lose. You cannot do anything because your failure is an internal disease. Your companies are based on Taylor’s principles. Worse, your heads are Taylorized too. You firmly believe that sound management means executives on the one side and workers on the other, on the one side men who think and on the other side men who only work.”

Konusuke Matsushita


18 Mark Graban August 4, 2006 at 10:54 am

“Why not make the work easier and more interesting so that people do not have to sweat?

The Toyota style is not to create results by working hard. It is a system that says there is no limit to people’s creativity.

People don’t go to Toyota to ‘work’ they go there to ‘think’”

- Taiichi Ohno, co-creator of the Toyota Production System

found at http://www.dwightbowen.com


19 jrs September 22, 2006 at 10:22 am

No man or woman does it all by themself (TEAM)


20 Anonymous October 5, 2006 at 5:27 pm

“Continuous Improvement is not about the things you do well – that’s work. Continuous Improvement is about removing the things that get in the way of your work. The headaches, the things that slow you down, that’s what Continuous Improvement is all about.”


21 lela December 30, 2013 at 9:47 am

Bruce Hamilton from the Toast Kaizen dvd, president of GBMP, said this. He rocks : )


22 Joel Gross
April 4, 2014 at 10:55 am

Bruce should have his own quote page. He just has a way of stating very complex ideas simply and elegantly. Another one of my favorite Bruce-isms, I use it any time a “knowledge worker” suggests that Lean thinking does not apply to them:

“In my world, all work is knowledge work.”


23 Anonymous October 12, 2006 at 3:17 pm

Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.
-Henry Ford-


24 Mark Graban November 2, 2006 at 11:24 pm

From Jim Womack:

“Managers will try anything easy that doesn’t work before they will try anything hard that does work.”


25 LeanFushion November 8, 2006 at 6:40 pm

“If Lean is common sense, it would be more common”


26 Jean Cunningham December 1, 2006 at 5:30 pm

“You should not need an MBA to understand the numbers in your company.”

Jean Cunningham


27 Lester Sutherland January 10, 2007 at 10:54 pm

Time waste differs from material waste in that there can be no salvage.

— Henry Ford


28 Rob H. January 15, 2007 at 9:06 am

“Variation breeds inventory.” (Shingo?)


29 Jeff Reed January 21, 2007 at 11:34 pm

Everyone gets the experience; some get the lesson.
– T.S. Eliot


30 Jeff Reed January 21, 2007 at 11:35 pm

Planning is priceless.
The plan itself is useless.

–Gen. Binford Peay
US Army Gulf War Leader


31 Robert Simonis February 3, 2014 at 9:03 pm

That quote is from Dwight Eisenhower


32 Mark Graban
February 3, 2014 at 9:12 pm

The exact quote seems to be “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Mark Graban recently posted..Reader Question: Pros & Cons of Observing in the WorkplaceMy Profile


33 Wayne Holland February 1, 2007 at 12:09 am

“It is management that cause companies to fail, not employees”


34 Nick Greville March 7, 2007 at 3:47 am

“A foolproof system is no match for a system-proof fool!”…


35 Ron Kensey, Owner April 4, 2007 at 12:40 am

Lean marketing is a challenge. Introducing creative people to standard work is not without some pain .. here is a comment that I received from one ..

“I suppose one ought not to employ a magician and then complain that he does not behave like other people.”


36 Anonymous April 8, 2007 at 1:25 pm

* Time waste differs from material waste in that there can be no
salvage. The easiest of all wastes and the hardest to correct is the waste
of time, because wasted time does not litter the floor like wasted
material… Henry Ford, 1926

* I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors, and I shall
adopt new views so fast as they appear to be true views… Abraham Lincoln,

* If you need a new process and don’t install it, you pay for it
without getting it. … Ken Stork, past president of AME


37 HGlick May 9, 2007 at 9:54 am

To go along with the quote-”Different isn’t always better…but better is always different”
If you want better, then learn to be different.


38 Anonymous May 15, 2007 at 7:33 pm

“You can act your way into good thinking faster than you can think your way into good actions.”


39 Mike Thelen May 17, 2007 at 3:44 pm

“Without changing our patterns of thought, we will not be able to solve the problems that we created with our current patterns of thought.”
~ Albert Einstein


40 Aji June 8, 2007 at 8:22 am

This is one of my favorite quotes by my CEO:

“I would rather get a person to think than buy a new car. After all, a car is just a piece of metal.”
- Anthony P. Hales


41 Anonymous August 17, 2007 at 4:11 pm

“First we’ll make it work – then we’ll make it pretty”

- my crusty old former boss


42 neutron jerk August 20, 2007 at 10:05 pm

“Go slow to go fast.”

Toyota expression


43 Mike T August 24, 2007 at 1:49 pm

It’s only the last turn of a bolt that tightens it – the rest is just movement. ~ Shigeo Shingo


44 Anonymous December 19, 2007 at 12:41 pm

“Failure to change is a vice! I want everyone at toyota to change and at least do not be an obstacle for someone else who wants to cahnge.” ~ Hiroshi Okuda, Senior Advisor, board memeber and former chairman of Toyota Motor Corp.


45 Mike T December 27, 2007 at 3:17 pm

“Even the greatest idea can become meaningless in the rush to judgement. To gauge an idea as feasible we must cut our ties to the status quo and find the balance between constructive criticism and judgment. Within that balance we will uncover crucial input for making our ideas a reality.” – Shigeo Shingo.


46 Erik February 22, 2008 at 4:34 pm

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
- W. Edwards Deming

“All models are wrong. Some models are useful.” – Demming

Benjamin Franklin’s 5-Why Analysis:
For want of a nail a shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe a horse was lost,
for want of a horse a rider was lost,
for want of a rider an army was lost,
for want of an army a battle was lost,
for want of a battle the war was lost,
for want of the war the kingdom was lost,
and all for the want of a little horseshoe nail.

“You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing there will be no result.” -Ghandi


47 Ralf Lippold March 15, 2008 at 8:55 am

“The road to success is always under construction” (chinese proverb)


48 Seshkumar March 28, 2008 at 9:11 am

One of my favorite quotes -

Never mistake motion for action – Ernest Hemingway


49 Anonymous April 29, 2008 at 12:59 pm

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin


50 Mark Graban May 21, 2008 at 5:15 pm

“In God we trust. All others, bring data.”

W. Edwards Deming


51 Bryan June 11, 2008 at 7:30 pm

“The method outlined also leads to an important principle which all should work to, and which will do much to correct the usual policy found in shops. It can be stated as follows:

The method to follow in getting the work through a shop is not to apply pressure at A towards B, but to draw a B from A.(emphasis is author’s)

This means a ‘pull’ type instead of a ‘push’ type, as one man expressed it.”

From Installing Efficiency Methods, by C.E. Knoeppel, 1917


52 Anonymous June 12, 2008 at 9:41 am

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

-Sir Winston Churchill


53 Kevin_GHS June 28, 2008 at 1:16 pm

If management is not removing the obstacle, they are the obstacle!


54 Christina July 3, 2008 at 10:04 am

“The Biggest room, is the room for improvement” – chinese proverb


55 Mark Graban July 16, 2008 at 5:51 pm

Thanks, Ted, for: “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” Leonardo da Vinci


56 pastaman August 12, 2008 at 12:26 pm

“In times of change the learners will inherit the earth, while the knowers will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

Eric Hoffer


57 Anonymous August 13, 2008 at 1:52 pm

“Do you believe that you can learn how to become a Marine by reading books and applying what you learned? NO!”


58 Anonymous August 29, 2008 at 2:37 pm

“Be quick, but don’t hurry.” John Wooden


59 Kevin September 4, 2008 at 9:35 am

“Reward those who Do,
Train those who Can’t,
Replace those who Won’t”

Henn’s Creed


60 MikeMcG October 23, 2008 at 11:41 am

Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”


61 john July 12, 2011 at 7:57 am

didn’t he know probability theory?


62 Mark Graban March 28, 2009 at 9:03 am

From Duke, quotes of Shigeo Shingo:

Real waste lurks in places that don’t look like waste.

Time is merely the shadow of motion
Four goals of improvement: 1) make things easier 2) better 3) faster and 4) cheaper

Delays are less a matter of time and more an effect of timing

It is more important to know-why than know-how

Unless people’s motion add value they are useless toward the goal
Are our specifications or frequencies too tight for accomplishing the task?


63 Anonymous April 15, 2009 at 1:18 pm

There are two reasons why we change. We learn enough that we want to or we hurt enough that we have to


64 Anonymous May 22, 2009 at 9:33 am

“”Only fools worship their tools”"

Dee Hock


65 Mike T. June 19, 2009 at 10:49 am

Just saw this in Quality Digest:

"The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor: he took my measure anew every time he saw me, whilst all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit me.”

-George Bernard Shaw


66 Trisha July 24, 2009 at 4:41 pm

"People say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing – that's why we recommend it daily." – Zig Ziglar


67 Tim Griffin August 12, 2009 at 3:24 pm

I was kind of surprised to not see this lean quote posted yet…

"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all" – Peter Drucker


68 Andrew Bishop August 12, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Two of my favorites from Pascal Dennis:

"Complexity is a crude state; simplicity is the end of a process of refinement."

"At Toyota a manager's job is to practice and teach P-D-C-A."


69 Anonymous August 19, 2009 at 12:54 pm

No one has more trouble than the person who claims to have no trouble. – Taiichi Ohno, father of the Toyota production system.


70 Anonymous September 10, 2009 at 6:32 pm

From the "Hitchhiker's Guide to Lean". The formula to assess changing the culture:

HxVxF > R

H is Hatred for the current reality, V is the Vision of the ideal state, F is the courage to take the First Steps (take a risk), and R is the natural resistance to change.


71 Mark Welch September 23, 2009 at 12:15 am

"Corporate executives are…accustomed to keeping up with the latest management fads through books, seminars, executive education. The danger with attempts at learning TPS through such means is that some readers have a tendency to think that if they've read about something they know it." John Shook from the Forward of The Toyota Way Fieldbook


72 Andrew Bishop October 9, 2009 at 9:15 pm

From Isao Kato, Superfactory, 13 March, 2006, in Art Smalley's article "TPS versus Lean: Additional Perspectives":

"Clear awareness of problems and a very low tolerance for the current condition is the proper attitude and the right starting point for TPS or Lean."

There's ALOT of other good thinking in this piece, collected by Art Smalley (find it on his website), including Kato's comments on the origins of lean, jidoka (and how we are missing it in the U.S.), and the role of supervisors. This "starting point" quotation is just one favorite, really pithy bit.



73 Jim Baran April 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Sign above my desk “The desire to do good work is seldom satisfied by just getting by”. Richard Sennett


74 CP July 30, 2010 at 5:09 am

“One thing you can’t recycle is wasted time ” Ohno


75 Mark Graban
October 7, 2010 at 3:49 pm

“Applying the Toyota Production System outside the shop floor can be done but this takes some creativity”, Fujio Cho


76 Shawn Strandberg October 25, 2010 at 8:28 am

“it’s simple but it’s hard”


77 Nick Morris March 1, 2011 at 6:45 am

Without data its just an opinion!


78 Cyrille March 26, 2011 at 7:30 pm

What about Standard ?

This highest Standard you are able to implement is the lowest level that you will obtain


79 Steve Palmreuter March 28, 2011 at 9:20 am

“Change is like heaven, everyone wants to do it, but not right now.”

“Culture eats strategy every time” from “Good to Great”.

“Change before you have to” Jack Welch.


80 24Kilo May 24, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures.
Tom Peters

Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change.
Tom Peters


81 Mark Graban
May 24, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Thanks to Andrew Bishop:

“90% of resistance is cautionary”

-Shigeo Shingo (attributed!)


82 Mark Graban
June 13, 2011 at 12:54 pm

This New York Times page has a number of great Toyota quotes.


83 Dr. Larry Shear January 21, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Good, Better, Best
Don’t ever let it rest…
Until your good is better,
and your better is your best.

A camel’s hump is an ugly lump,
Often found in the zoo,
But uglier yet,
Is the hump we get,
From having too little to do.


84 TheTaodMen
February 22, 2012 at 4:56 am

“Reducing costs is reducing quality.
Increasing quality is reducing costs”
(source unknown)

“We are good at applying open heart surgery, where a plaster would have sufficed.
And we are good at applying a plaster, where open heart surgery would be appropriate”


85 TheTaodMen
February 22, 2012 at 5:14 am

Professor Elie Wiesel (on http://twitter.com/#!/eliewieselfdn):
“Computers have all the answers” the young man said. “Yes,” replied Professor Wiesel, “but they don’t know the questions.”

Photographer Ansel Adams (from his book: The Camera):
“… avoiding the common illusion that creative work depends on equipment alone …”


86 Dave March 17, 2012 at 4:04 pm

If you always do what you’ve always done. You always get what you’ve always got….

The last thing I say after a training course


87 Ken Darrow May 10, 2012 at 9:06 am

Every action is an opportunity to improve.


88 Mark Graban
May 10, 2012 at 9:19 am

Whose quote is that, Ken?


89 Ken Darrow May 10, 2012 at 9:21 am

Mine, I use it with our in-house lean training.


90 Michael Kunz January 4, 2013 at 3:40 pm

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”

(A. Einstein)


91 Borgstrøm January 15, 2013 at 4:59 pm

“A great product requires mediocre processes with brilliant employees, or mediocre employees with brilliant processes.”

I have no idea who this quote is from, but heard it in a course.
It just stuck with me. Me somebody knows who said it.


92 Mark Graban
January 15, 2013 at 5:47 pm

I don’t know the origin, but I’ve heard a quote attributed to a Toyota leader, saying something a bit different:

Dan Jones recounted they said:

“Brilliant process management is our strategy. We get brilliant results from average people managing brilliant processes. We observe that our competitors often get average (or worse) results from brilliant people managing broken processes.”

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