Toyota is Not Lean

One of the things we have noticed in working with Toyota during the past few years (Toyota Material Handling is a member of the Lean Factory Group) is that they don’t really use the term “Lean” to refer to themselves and what they do. After all, the Toyota Production System was developed long before the 1991 publication of The Machine That Changed The World, and there was no real reason to call it anything different.

In fact while many people think of Lean as a collection of methods and techniques, at its heart it is simply a focus on improvement and the scientific method combined with an engagement of the entire workforce. Toyota has been especially noteworthy in their success at this, but there are no inherent roadblocks to any other organization or industry in doing the same thing.

I mention this because I received several emails last week lamenting the difficulty in convincing colleagues about the wisdom of a Lean initiative, and how Lean is viewed as a “Book of the Month Club” program.

My response is this: why use the term Lean at all? As soon as you use a label you trigger an immediate preconception, which is probably wrong

¬†Add to that the use of Japanese words and phrases, like Kaizen and Hoshin Kanri, and Lean becomes something exotic, foreign and alien to the existing culture. Instead use terms like “improvement”, “working together”, and “solving problems” to describe the continuous improvement effort. This approach is much less likely to trigger reptilian brain behavior. If Toyota can get away with not using the term Lean, so can you.

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