Toyota Way Principle #1: Need Not Apply?


My company is attempting to define and create a “Company Production System,” patterned after TPS. Some of our executives visited TMMK (Toyota Georgetown) and understood the idea that TPS and lean is not just a bunch of tools (like 5S and kanban). It really requires a particular culture and management approach. Good start.

I initiated and am leading a weekly book discussion, with our lower level manufacturing and functional managers, on The Toyota Way, figuring that's a good start for helping people understand what our company might eventually define as “CPS”. CPS hasn't really been defined very well yet, so we're moving ahead without waiting on corporate.

We hit a potential roadblock right away with Principle 1: “Base your management decision on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals”

Our plant manager was very adamant in explaining, “I don't think we're going to include that one in CPS. As we define what CPS means, we're just not going to get away from the short-term quarterly focus.” Oh, and by the way, the company isn't going to want to “play nice” with suppliers (we haven't even gotten to that chapter yet!)

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. So my heart sinks a bit when I hear that. I had hoped that our executives had also understood that TPS isn’t a “Chinese Menu” (pardon the phrase, it’s culturally insenstive and the the wrong country, but forgive me) where you can “choose one method from Column A and one management principle from Column B’, whatever makes you feel good.

    The Toyota Way, as I understood it, is the integration of those 14 Principles. If we’re going to continue a ruthless short-term focus each quarter (including such things as pulling in orders from the next quarter, pushing supplier receipts out artificially, laying off people at the end of each quarter, etc.), are we doomed for implementing anything close to a Toyota culture? We probably are.

    But, can we still expect to use other Toyota Way principles and end up with a culture and management system that’s better than we had before? We’re making some progress – managers are getting out on the shopfloor more often, we’re improving flow and pull systems, we’re attempting to use heijunka where we can…. but these are mainly the principles of Section II (“The Right Process Will Produce the Right Results”).

    The idea that you can pick and choose among the Toyota principles and still be like Toyota seems like this idea:

    A child decides he or she wants to be a world class athlete. They’ll do anything that a world class athlete does — but without the eating healthy part! Yeah, I want to be an Olympic champion, but only if I can eat McDonald’s three meals a day, because that’s just who I am!

    I know we wouldn’t expect to get to Toyota’s level overnight even if you embrace all 14 principles (although I’ve heard some ridiculous statements about how some sites will “implement CPS” in 13 weeks — it hasn’t even been defined, even so, you don’t change a culture in a quarter). But, it seems unlikely that we would ever accept the principles of Sections III and IV, which include:

    * Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work….. (we will rotate people around too quickly)
    * Develop exceptional people…. who follow your company’s philosophy (make money this quarter)
    * Respect your extended network of suppliers (move work to that supplier who is 2 cents cheaper)
    * Make decisions slowly by consensus (we need to rush to answers now, fast fast fast!)

    What do you think….are we struggling along like any non-lean company would, or are we doomed to frustration and the company giving up on CPS?

  2. Well, when they do it half-way, they’ll have a good excuse for the next time they try it after it fails the first time. So many companies say “we tried that before” when what they really mean is they tried it half-a** and crashed & burned.

    I’ll go out on a limb & say that Taiichi Ohno is a lot smarter about this than guys who have seen it for about a month. Remember that Ohno worked on the concepts for about 30 years before even giving it a name! Just do it his way!


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