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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  1. Anonymous says

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

  2. Bill Waddell says

    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 says

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

    Found at the “Got Boondoggle” blog.

  4. Anonymous says

    “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 says

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

    W. Edwards Deming

  6. Karen Wilhelm says

    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 says

    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.

    1. Mike Santarelli says

      Agree Mark – thanks for sharing this.

  8. Joe Wilson says

    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 says

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

  10. Anonymous says

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

    1. damianreese says

      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.”

  11. JB says

    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 says

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

  13. Anonymous says

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


  14. Anonymous says

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

  15. Anonymous says

    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”

    1. Mark Graban says

      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…

  16. Mark Graban says

    “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

  17. Mark Graban says

    “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

  18. jrs says

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

  19. Anonymous says

    “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.”

    1. lela says

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

      1. Joel Gross says

        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.”

  20. Anonymous says

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

  21. Mark Graban says

    From Jim Womack:

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

  22. LeanFushion says

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

  23. Jean Cunningham says

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

    Jean Cunningham

  24. Lester Sutherland says

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

    — Henry Ford

  25. Rob H. says

    “Variation breeds inventory.” (Shingo?)

  26. Jeff Reed says

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

  27. Jeff Reed says

    Planning is priceless.
    The plan itself is useless.

    –Gen. Binford Peay
    US Army Gulf War Leader

    1. Robert Simonis says

      That quote is from Dwight Eisenhower

      1. Mark Graban says

        The exact quote seems to be “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

  28. Wayne Holland says

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

  29. Nick Greville says

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

  30. Ron Kensey, Owner says

    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.”

  31. Anonymous says

    * 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

  32. HGlick says

    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.

  33. Anonymous says

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

  34. Mike Thelen says

    “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

  35. Aji says

    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

  36. Anonymous says

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

    – my crusty old former boss

  37. neutron jerk says

    “Go slow to go fast.”

    Toyota expression

  38. Mike T says

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

  39. Anonymous says

    “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.

  40. Mike T says

    “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.

  41. Erik says

    “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

    1. Claire Everett says

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

      Benjamin Franklin definitely did not create this.

    2. PeteWelcome says

      “All models are wrong […]” attributed to George Box, “”Robustness in the strategy of scientific model building”, 1979

  42. Ralf Lippold says

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

  43. Seshkumar says

    One of my favorite quotes –

    Never mistake motion for action – Ernest Hemingway

  44. Anonymous says

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

      1. Mark Graban says

        Thanks, Kevin!

  45. Mark Graban says

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

    W. Edwards Deming

  46. Bryan says

    “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

  47. Anonymous says

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

    -Sir Winston Churchill

  48. Kevin_GHS says

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

  49. Christina says

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

  50. Mark Graban says

    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

  51. pastaman says

    “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

  52. Anonymous says

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

  53. Anonymous says

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

  54. Kevin says

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

    Henn’s Creed

  55. MikeMcG says

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

    1. john says

      didn’t he know probability theory?

  56. Mark Graban says

    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?

  57. Anonymous says

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

  58. Anonymous says

    “”Only fools worship their tools””

    Dee Hock

  59. Mike T. says

    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

  60. Trisha says

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

  61. Tim Griffin says

    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

  62. Andrew Bishop says

    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."

  63. Anonymous says

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

  64. Anonymous says

    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.

  65. Mark Welch says

    "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

  66. Andrew Bishop says

    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.


  67. Jim Baran says

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

  68. CP says

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

    1. Joao says

      In which book or paper ohno said that?

      1. Mark Graban says

        I don’t know, but the quote is floating around the internet if you Google it. That doesn’t mean Ohno absolutely said it or wrote it…

        1. R says

          Made me think of my favourite internet quote from Lincoln:

  69. Mark Graban says

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

  70. Shawn Strandberg says

    “it’s simple but it’s hard”

  71. Nick Morris says

    Without data its just an opinion!

  72. Cyrille says

    What about Standard ?

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

  73. Steve Palmreuter says

    “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.

  74. 24Kilo says

    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

  75. Mark Graban says

    Thanks to Andrew Bishop:

    “90% of resistance is cautionary”

    -Shigeo Shingo (attributed!)

  76. Mark Graban says

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

  77. Dr. Larry Shear says

    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.

  78. TheTaodMen says

    “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”

  79. TheTaodMen says

    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 …”

  80. […] Some Ohno quotes from this post’s comments: […]

  81. Dave says

    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

  82. Ken Darrow says

    Every action is an opportunity to improve.

    1. Mark Graban says

      Whose quote is that, Ken?

      1. Ken Darrow says

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

  83. Michael Kunz says

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

    (A. Einstein)

  84. Borgstrøm says

    “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.

    1. Mark Graban says

      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.”


  85. Mike Santarelli says

    “A standardized process without a mechanism for change is a shackle.”

  86. Claire Everett says

    “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

  87. Niclas says

    Even a kick in the ass is a step forward!
    -Unknown BB

    1. Mark Graban says

      I’m not sure that’s really a Lean thought there…

  88. […] Lean Quotes Collection (4056) […]

  89. Christopher Temple says

    “Good tools will never be a substitute for poor management”

  90. Richard hoogerwerf says

    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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