Lean Manufacturing or TPS?  Who really cares?

Jason Burt

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.  


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…

B2B Growth Podcast – 3 things more important than Revenue

Jason Burt

Having a clear plan for growing revenue is almost always the first thing that Leaders focus on…but there are other things that are just as important as Revenue, and maybe even more important.  Lean Manufacturing helps business leaders look at growth and make sure there is a clear plan for Capacity, Capability, and Margin growth which is key for the growth to be successful.

Listen Now

Lean Minute #11 – Business Growth

Jason Burt

Are you looking to Grow your Consulting Business, Manufacturing business, etc….good!  But it is important to think about the Lean Manufacturing approach and make sure that the growth is done in a responsible and sustainable way.  

Lean Minute #10 – TPS vs. Lean

Jason Burt

There seems to be a divide in the Lean Consulting Community around the Toyota Way approach versus the Lean Manufacturing approach.  Well, I think this is ridiculous.  Too many Lean Consultants are getting wrapped up in terminology instead of looking at the actual Lean Thinking approach that is being used, despite the terminology.

Lean Minute #9 – Don’t Forget the Culture

Jason Burt

Quick talk about the importance of Culture in any Lean Manufacturing implementation.  Everyone seems to love the Lean Tools that are very popular, but often too many leaders forget to focus enough on the Lean Culture that needs to be developed and is ultimately the driver in any sustainable Lean Manufacturing implementation.  

Hello Tech Pros Podcast – Leadership

Jason Burt

Great discussion about the difference between traditional Leadership and the Toyota style of leadership.  Toyota is the creator of the Lean manufacturing movement and the Toyota way has been written about and studied for years.  Jason is a Lean consultant that teaches Toyota’s way of Lean Leadership, and he shares some great stories in this podcast.

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How to save your company from the economy if the “other” candidate wins the Presidency!

Jason Burt

How to save your company from the economy if the “other” candidate wins the Presidency!

Recently the amount of discussions and articles that are available about the presidential race are at an all time high.  The level of interest raises everyday as we inch closer to November and the potential of one of the candidates winning becomes imminent.  The fear and concern is almost deafening as everyone is concerned about the “other” candidate.  Well maybe you are right….maybe the country is about to collapse along with everything you have built?  Now what are you going to do about it?

Problem Solving

Problem Solving

Jason Burt

For Problem Solving success – Have a Bias for Action!

Very often I see clients who are struggling to get any traction going when it comes to problem solving and making those needed small improvements in their business.

When it comes to problem solving, many business owners and executives get stuck in the details. They form committees with 20 members, have meetings and ponder what to do without ever taking action.

So how do you get going very early on with problem solving and your lean journey?

6 Reasons to Start your lean journey

6 Reasons to Start Your Lean Journey Now!

Jason Burt

I have yet to come across a company during my 20 years of lean that could not benefit from the approach Toyota taught me over the years.  The bigger issue is not the fact that the processes and team members need the help, but convincing leadership that they need it.  Leaders often struggle to have the humility to look at their company and simply say “we need help” or specifically “I need help”.  I am here to say that it is ok, and to share some simple reasons as to why it is time to start your lean journey.

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