Lean Manufacturing or TPS?  Who really cares?

Yes, I said it….who really cares if it is called Lean Manufacturing or TPS…and I believe it 100%.  The truth is that there are many consultants and “experts” out there that focus way too much time criticizing work going on around us because of terminology and not based on knowledge of that persons approach.  

Disclaimer…

So my background is in the Toyota Production System (TPS).  I have worked with, for, and been mentored by Toyota for over 20 years in one capacity or another.  All of my learning and approach is based on TPS and I credit them with everything that I do in my consulting practice.  The reality is that I refer to or call what I do “Lean” on a daily basis.  And I am ok with that.  

Let me repeat “I call what I do ‘lean Manufacturing’ on a daily basis. And I am ok with that.”

The reality…

The truth is that the majority of my current customers and my target customers have heard the term Lean and have not necessarily become familiar with its roots based in TPS.  For that reason, I have embraced the term and use it interchangeably with TPS.  

The reality is “who cares”?  It is the thinking that really matters correct?  It is the approach that is important, right?  That is what is said by many leaders of our industry, yet some of those same leaders will be so quick to jump on someone over basic terminology that doesn’t mean squat.  I recently reached out to a connection on Linkedin who presents himself as an “expert” on this topic…and his arrogant response was “your lean is not the same as my lean”.  Now my question is simply…how would you know that seeing how we have never talked, worked, or even communicated together before me reaching out to connect…and ask him a question.  …I don’t get it.

What we should ALL be doing is recognizing that the terminology being used is purely based on where you came from, who you learned from….and that terminology is multiple times removed from where it originated.  It is the telephone game in real life for us adults.  

Example:  Is it pronounced Kanban (Can-ban) or Kanban (Kon-Bon)?  

I’m sure you have an opinion, but doesn’t it really matter…or does the proper use and understanding of how the system is used to make customer/supplier connections important…and using it properly to highlight problems for problem solving…   That is what is important to me and should be for all of us as coaches and leaders.

What is Really important…

What is really important in the Lean Manufacturing versus Toyota Production System debate is that we are all learning and improving our approach daily.  We all have the same issue that we deal with…and that is sustainability of the system and the approach.  We all have our thoughts on why this is an issue, not focusing on the people development, Leaders not engaged, tool focus versus culture development.  They are all true, and I have seen each of those gaps in groups using “Toyota Way” an “Lean Manufacturing” to describe their approach.  So I honestly don’t think that the terminology is the issue.  In fact, I have ran into some great problem solving, people focused companies that haven’t really heard anything about Lean Manufacturing or TPS…but their thinking already further along than some companies on the path already.  So once again…I do not believe that terminology is a major problem that we should waste so much time and effort on.

What we need to do…

I would like to our industry of Lean/TPS consultants and Leaders out there working hard to implement sustainable continuous improvement cultures stop worrying about the words and focus on the approach.  

Making sure that our approach is people focused to develop highly capable problem solvers across the organization, and that it is designing a system to support that work across the entire organization…that is what is important to me and should be to all of us.  We should all be focused on making our approach and others better despite the terminology difference.  

So, if I am in conversation with someone or working with a new client and they decide to call THEIR system the… 

…Operational performance system 

…Toyota Way system

…Enterprise continuous improvement

…Lean Manufacturing approach

and they are using…

Value Stream Mapping  versus Material and Information Flow

Kanban versus Kanban

Standard Work versus Standardized work

I’m not worried, because I am working with them on their THINKING and their APPROACH, not telling them what words they need to use within THEIR culture that they are developing.

Do the words matter at all…

So, before everyone jumps in with their comments as to why I am wrong and terminology is important.  I will say that the consistency of the terminology is important within the companies culture to standardize communication.  If a Lean organization is going to properly train and communicate Lean concepts, there must be a consistent set of Lean terminology that is used and consistent thinking behind them.  

…So yes, of course standards are important…

jasonburt

About jasonburt

Jason Burt is the owner of Evolve Holdings LLC, which provides business-consulting services based on applying Lean principles across all areas and levels of an organization. He has had the opportunity to work with and be mentored directly by Toyota, the creators of Lean. Jason now helps other companies achieve lean cultures and also is actively involved in multiple start-up ventures as an owner and investor. Since venturing into the entrepreneurial world, Jason has had the opportunity to work with many fascinating companies and to help them achieve new potential in terms of business strategy and culture development.

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