To Merge or Not To Merge… Lean & TPS?


What a Looker ; - )By Bill Hanover of ThroughPut Solutions

It was proposed on Wikipedia (an open source online encyclopedia that anyone can edit,) that the main article regarding “Lean Manufacturing” should be merged with the main article regarding “The Toyota Production System.”

Maybe it's all just semantics, or maybe there is a real difference between the two. I stated my humble opinion in the “Discussion” section, and have pasted it below for your consideration.

What are your thoughts?

== Merging with “Toyota Production System” Discussion ==

One Lean Practitioner's opinion…, but I do not believe the “Lean Manufacturing” article should be merged with the “Toyota Production System” article.

Although the majority of what we now call Lean Manufacturing stems from Toyota, it is easy to argue that Toyota's Production System has been bastardized and/or improved upon in the realm of Lean Manufacturing, to the point that there is an increasing disparity between the two.

For example: Many now promote the inclusion of an 8th or 9th waste such as “Untapped Human Potential” or include “6S” in place of “5S” etc.

Although this “evolution” or “bastardization” (depending on how you look at it,) will continue, the distinctions between the two are growing. I do not believe it is incumbent on Toyota to redefine its' system due to popular opinions or practices, nor do I believe Lean Manufacturing, as practiced in diverse ways, should be limited to the confines of Toyota's system.

One need only look to any of hundreds (if not thousands) of companies now practicing their own version of “TPS” or “Lean Manufacturing” to recognize serious deviations from Toyota's system. Consider the following examples: “Ford Production System – FPS,” “GM's Global Manufacturing System – GMS,” “Autoliv Production System – APS,” and etc. This list could go on and on. It seems, increasingly so, more companies prefer to customize or create their own Lean systems.

Perhaps the practice of “continuous improvement” may be the primary reason for maintaining the distinction between “Lean Manufacturing” and “other” systems “established” and “developing,” under the umbrella of Lean Manufacturing. It would seem Toyota's “umbrella” and original authorship are no longer sufficiently broad to cover the evolution of Lean Manufacturing as practiced and emerging.

If you take issue with this line of reasoning consider Lean in service industries such as Healthcare, Education, Government, and etc.

Lean Manufacturing is clearly rooted in the Toyota Production System, but it has “left the building” when you recognize how it is applied in venues outside of manufacturing. This is true even though many of the original tools, techniques, and the guiding philosophy of the Toyota Production System are central to current Lean thinking and practices.

I believe there is more of “Lean Manufacturing” yet to be discovered or created than currently exists. Can we envision “Lean Psychotherapy,” “Lean Knowledge Acquisition,” “Lean Computing,” or even “Lean Relationships”? The future is very bright!

Again, just one man's opinion; I'd enjoy reading yours.

Here is the Art Smalley presentation that's referenced in the comments.

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  1. It’s worth reminding folks, I think, that the phrase “Lean Manufacturing” wasn’t created by Toyota. It was created by Jon Krafcik, who was working as part of the research team for the book “The Machine that Changed the World.”

    I believe Toyota now refers to theirs as a “lean” system.

    I would maybe draw a line between “lean” and “TPS” with the “respect for people” aspect. If you’re just reducing waste and focusing on those tools, I would maybe call that “lean” whereas a company that’s working on the people management side of things (in a Toyota manner) might be more of a “TPS” approach.

    “Lean” is a much easier adjective/modifier than “TPS.” “Lean Healthcare” is easier to say than “Toyota Production System Style Healthcare.”

    It’s a shame Toyota somehow doesn’t get more direct credit in the term “lean.” That shortchanges their contribution.

  2. It’s OK that lean is evolving. Toyota evolves and improves TPS over time. As the rest of us improve it, the question remains…. which matters more? “What Would Toyota Do?” or “What Works?” Who can stand and say if some new practice is “lean” or “not lean?”

    You can bastardize TPS/lean all you want… and if you surpass Toyota, that will become the new model, eh?

  3. There should be separate articles for “lean”-anything and Toyota Production System. Articles should have “see” references to each other. That’s my opinion based on 30 years of reference book and website publishing.

  4. No, it wasn’t. Maytag’s website says they started Lean Sigma in 1998. Are they the first company to combine those names?

  5. I took 2 courses at the Toyota Supplier Support Center, and they seemed to avoid discussing anything “lean”. In fact, they didn’t mention many, almost none, of the “lean tools” like SMED, 5S, VSM, etc.

    Their message sticks close to their philosophy points:
    1. Customer first
    2. People are the most important resource
    3. Kaizen
    4. Shop floor focus
    (straight from the book)

    Following this philosophy is aiming for True North, which is highest quality, shortest lead time, lowest cost.

    Their presentation starts with a lengthy discussion of these points, then into the need for stability through problem solving (PDCA), standardized work, and eventually into kanban.

    Their message is that all the tools really follow this philosophy. Trust the force, and you will succeed.

    I can really understand that you would arrive at SMED as a result of applying this philosophy. I think their resistance to writing down TPS all those years was because they didn’t want the view of their system as a “group of tools” to dilute the fundamental message. They prefer to have their people understand and practice the philosophy, rather than get caught up in a bunch of confusing tool talk.

    I agree with them. So many people in North America get caught up in “tools and pull” and miss the point of the “system”. Especially #2.

    Art Smalley is my hero for his writings on this subject (his 2006 Shingo presentation really hits the mark).

  6. Would we be having this discussion if it were not for Wikipedia? I don’t care if you call it “the Bob system” or shazaam. It’s about what you do, not what it’s called. The best lean is better than the worst TPS, and the best TPS is better than the worst LeanSigma, and so on.

  7. Looking again at Art’s pitch, he uses almost the same words as Jamie…

    “It is not what you call it
    that counts but why
    and how you do it that
    really matters!”

    But there’s a “however”…the rest is a surprise.

    Have other’s seen examples like Art’s?

    I see them every day in my work…I’ve got many “lathe departments” and many people wondering why they don’t flow…but not always observing and asking why, why, why….

  8. I’m always amazed that the highest number of comments usually happen when you question the semantics of what do you call something. And we wonder why so few companies are really lean. Go figure

  9. Maybe not the most “Value Added” discussion ever, but maybe it gets folks thinking.

    To clarify, the way I defined “lean” above isn’t what I think what lean should be (lean should include “respect for people”, lean and TPS should be synonymous), but I see many companies implementing what they call “lean” as something that doesn’t include respect for people. They focus on cutting waste, which then leads to cutting heads and people. That’s not “lean” but they call it “lean.”

    So at some point, as Jamie said, I don’t care what you call it, just do the right things.

    For the record, I also could care less about how Wikipedia structures their pages really.

  10. While we may not care about how Wikipedia structures their pages, it is important how Lean and TPS is represented to the world. Wikipedia and any other disseminator of information has a part in the marketing of our “product,” for better or worse.

    I actually wish we had something more marketable than either Lean or TPS. The word “lean” only connotates a reduction in something (costs, manpower, etc.). The word “Toyota” in TPS misleads many people to believe that it’s really only applicable to the automobile industry or Japanese manufacturing. The people that study and love Lean & TPS can get beyond the limitations of our labels, but our “customers,” those who we would like to convert, need something with which they can identify.

    I’m a shopfloor guy, not a sales type. Believe me, I’m not interested in wasting time on slogans and catchphrases either. I just want to have the best chance possible at convincing my colleagues of the power of…value-stream optimization?


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