Lean *is* About Quality, Folks


Time for a low-carb Lean Six Sigma?:

Stuff like this irritates me to no end:

“Lean Manufacturing has us analyzing process flow and delay times at each activity within a process. And while Lean Manufacturing principles help speed things up, they don't really focus on quality control. Think of it as ‘improving process speed.'”

It's a huge pet peeve of mine when people create the dichotomy that “Lean is about speed and Six Sigma is about quality.” Hogwash.

Lean and the Toyota Production System are primarily quality-focused systems. Lean and TPS are focused on the waste of defects and rework and the methodology gives approaches for preventing errors and improving quality (poka yoke).

The “Toyota House” diagram's two pillars are Just-In-Time (flow and speed) and Jidoka (quality at the source). The two ideas are connected — improving flow (in itself) ends up improving quality and improving quality improves flow.

If you hear someone say “Lean isn't about quality,” it's tempting to tune them out as they don't know what they're talking about. Have some people implemented something they called “lean” in an environment that didn't care about quailty? Sure — but that's not an indictment of the Toyota Production System.

The author I linked to DOES make some good points on a related topic about how you can't just rely on measurements. Deming made this point, that sometimes the important things CANNOT be measured (as opposed to the common misquoting of Deming supposedly saying “You can't manage what you can't measure.” It's a good point that I don't often see made… but I almost quit reading when I read the false statement that unfairly characterized Lean.

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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. I agree Lean isn’t about Quality Control, which to me implies the QC Inspector at the end of the line that throws out all the bad parts.

    Lean is about, as Mark mentions, quality at the source…people innovating creative ways to put the QC Inspector out of a job! And we all know the QATS approach is much more cost effective…

  2. No. I won’t think of Lean that way!

    People have to be real careful who they’re getting their “lean” advice from…

  3. To 3/15 anonymous: You’re absolutely right, “quality” in terms of “zero defects” might not be enough. That’s why we need customer focus to make sure we’re building products and providing services that customers want and need, not just be inwardly focused on zero defects.

  4. Having continuous improvement camps that are tool-centric (lean vs. sigma vs. toc vs. tqm) is pointless. This is like a having a war between Vermont and New Hampshire.

    (we would kick NH butt!)


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