Get Inspired: A Collection of the Best Lean Quotes to Energize Your Journey


A 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.

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

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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. 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.”

  2. “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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    • I’ve also seen this as, “Act your way into a new way of thinking, rather than trying to think your way into a new way of acting.”

  6. 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.

  7. 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”

  8. “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

  9. “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

  10. “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.”

      • 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.”

  11. 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.”

  12. * 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

  13. 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.

  14. “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

  15. 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

  16. “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.

  17. “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.

  18. “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

    • Actually “For Want of a Nail” is an old proverb that has been around since c.1390

      Benjamin Franklin definitely did not create this.

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

  20. “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

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

    -Sir Winston Churchill

  22. 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

  23. “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

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

  25. 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?

  26. 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

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

  28. 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

  29. 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."

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

  31. 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.

  32. "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

  33. 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.


  34. “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.

  35. 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

  36. 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.

  37. “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”

  38. Professor Elie Wiesel (on!/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 …”

  39. 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

  40. “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.

    • 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.”


  41. “Amateurs work until they get it right. Professionals work until they can’t get it wrong.” – Author Unknown

    “The impossible is often the untried.” – Jim Goodwin

    “Many people think that Lean is about cutting heads, reducing the work force or cutting inventory. Lean is really a growth strategy. It is about gaining market share and being prepared to enter in or create new markets.” – Ernie Smith, Lean Event Facilitator in the Lean Enterprise Forum at the University of Tennessee

    “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” – Bill Gates

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

  42. As I teach people about on flow I use these :

    “Flow is like water in a nice stream. It doesn’t pause, it doesn’t overtake, it just …. flows”

    “Stability is the moneymaker in any process.”

    “Only start running when you know you can finish in time”

    “I don’t care if you have to stop a machine, I even don’t care if people have to stop as long as the product is moving”

    and on culture:
    “Together we are creating the workplace where you want to work”

    And on Process:
    “we are all getting older, so if your father can’t do this job, we should redesign it now”


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