Comparing Lean Principles to the 14 Toyota Principles (Part 1)

Four years ago, I read the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean” by Andy Carlino and Jamie Flinchbaugh.  The book was very easy to read and insightful.  In the book, Andy and Jamie talk about the five Lean Priniciples which they teach.  I had already read “The Toyota Way” by Jeffrey Liker.  I liked how Andy and Jamie only had 5 principles.  It made it easier to remember, but everywhere I went people refer to the 14 Toyota Principles in “The Toyota Way”.  In light of Toyota’s recent problems people are reluctant to mention Toyota as a high standard, because they don’t want the other person start to tune them out.

In order to help others see the value of five simple principles but not lose the tie to the 14 Toyota principles, I will have a three part series that will look at each of the 14 Toyota principles and examine how they relate to the five principles from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean.”

The first question to answer is: What are the five principles from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean”?  Here they are:

The Five Lean Principles from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean

  1. Directly Observe Work as Activities, Connections, and Flows
  2. Establish High Agreement of both What and How
  3. Systematic Waste Elimination
  4. Systematic Problem Solving
  5. Create a Learning Organization

As you read the comparison, I hope to give a better feel for the behaviors and essence of the five principles from Andy and Jamie.

Part 1 will focus on Principles 1 through 5 of the Toyota Way.

Toyota Principle #1: Base Your Management Decisions on a Long-Term Philosophy, Even at the Expense of Short-Term Financial Goals.

At first glance of the 14 principles, the first one seems to be the hardest to tie to the lean principles, but with deeper thought the connection can be made.  If an organization creates a clear vision of their ideal state, it dedicates the organization to being a great learning organization (Lean Principle #5).  Otherwise, the organization will not make strides towards the ideal state and will never reach its full potential.  An organization may have a goal to improve their processes whether it is the near future or several years down the line, in order to make gains towards the ideal state.  Take the example of designing a new product platform, the future may be three to five years down the road. If the organization learns from the successes and failures of the current product platform design, as well as conduct trials on designs with the future in mind, the company dedicates itself to the long-term future.  A short-term company doesn’t emphasize learning.  Their interests lie in trying to make the current platform a success and they do not document and spread learning for future platforms.

Also, if an organization truly observes its business, market place, and customers (Lean Principle #1) it can more deeply understand what the customers expect.  By continuing to strive to satisfy the customers’ needs, the organization adheres to long-term thinking.  An example would be Zappos.  If a customer calls, Zappos and they don’t have the shoe they customer wants in stock, they will refer the customer to a different company that has the shoe and size wanted.  Zappos is more concerned about the long-term relationship of having the customer come back because of the excellent customer service.  They are not just focused on that one time sale.

Toyota Principle #2: Create Continuous Process Flow to Bring Problems to the Surface

The Toyota Principle says “Bring Problems to the Surface”.  The underlying message is that continuous flow is a great concept/method/tool to help make problems visible so an organization can systematically solve them (Lean Principle #4).  With continuous flow, the process is like a well-oiled machine.  When something goes wrong, it becomes apparent quickly and the best way to keep the process running smoothly is to solve the problem down to the root cause so it won’t affect the process again.

Making problems quickly visible through continuous flow helps enable observation of the current reality (Lean Principle #1).  The continuous flow stops and attention is brought to the issue so managers, team leaders, and operators can directly observe the work and gain a better understanding of the process and enable better problem solving.  In order to achieve continuous flow, waste must be driven out of the process systematically (Lean Principle #3).  If not, the process will build up waste between value-added activities and continuous flow will not be achievable.

Toyota Principle #3: Use “Pull” Systems to Avoid Overproduction

Overproduction is the worst of the seven wastes, because it creates much more waste in the system.  The product must be stored (inventory waste), handled multiple times (transportation waste), thus allowing for potential defects from handling and storage (defect waste), and so on.  By using pull systems as a concept/tool, the processes become connected, which gives the customers an effective tool to communicate with the suppliers.  This communication alleviates overproduction of materials, which eliminates waste from the system (Lean Principle #3).

Toyota Principle #4: Level Out the Workload (Heijunka)

Most people work at an uneven pace.  Some days, employees are overloaded and working all hours and then a few days later the same employee has barely enough work to fill a day.  This can happen within the same day or even hour.  The unevenness in work, whether it is on the line or in the office, creates more work between processes.  Leveling out the workload consists of balancing the work amount amongst employees on the shop floor and in the office.  The object is to have everyone working at an even pace everyday.  Leveling the work will help the company easily spot waste that is causing the unevenness and eliminate it from the process (Lean Principle #3).  Leveling the workload not only helps eliminate the seven types of waste (transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overprocessing, overproduction, and defects), but also the overburden of people and resources.  Identifying and eliminating waste is key to continuous improvement.

Toyota Principle #5: Build a Culture of Stopping to Fix Problems, to Get Quality Right the First Time

Stopping to fix problems puts an organization in a systematic problem solving method (Lean Principle #4) so that bad quality is not passed on and variation is reduced from the system.  Reducing variation in the system creates a more stable process that helps prevent passing on bad quality to the customer.  This creates more waste in the system, because rework or reprocessing is then needed to correct the issue or the product may be scrapped.

In order to build a culture of stopping to fix problems, there must be high agreement on what the system will do and how it will work (Lean Principle #2).  If there isn’t high agreement on the what (stop the process to fix problems) and the how (the system/standard work in place to do that) then the culture will not change.  Once high agreement on the how is in place, a leader would come to the area and observe the issue in order to fix the problem (Lean Principle #1).  The best example of this is the Toyota assembly lines.  When an operator passes their 70% mark and they are not 70% complete with their work, they pull the andon cord.  The team leader comes to the station immediately and asks what the issue is and how they can help.  If the team leader can help resolve the issue they pull the andon signal again which turns it off.  If they can’t fix it, when the vehicle hits the red line, the assembly line stops.  This sends another signal and the group leader comes immediately to see what the issue is and how they can help.

Part 2 is posted here.



Posted on July 26, 2010, in Learning, Principles, Problem Solving, Waste and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Very nice post, thanks.

  2. I think people get way too hung up on explaining how many principles there are, or how many categories of waste there are, and never truly GET what the underlying concepts of lean are.

    • Ken –

      I agree that people do get too hung up on how many principles there are. But understanding the principles is the heart of getting the underlying concepts of lean. With good understanding of the principles than people start to understand the concepts of lean more completely. This helps understand when to use the concept and not just copy someone else.

  3. I love the Toyota principles. It’s served the company so well throughout their history. I truly think it’s the reason for their phenomenal success. I know personally we try to carry this out to a T at our dealership. It’s a struggle some days, but when you get it right it makes the business fire on all cylinders.

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