14 Principles, 5 Principles, 5 Pillars, Which do you use?

I have read various books, articles, blog posts, slide decks, or attended presentations, or have spoken to Lean practitioners who tell me about Lean’s 14 Principles, or Lean’s 5 Principles, or the 5 Pillars of Lean. This can become very confusing and typifies our lack of understanding of the TPS. Which do you use?

Dr Peter Middleton (coauthor of the book Lean Software Strategies) writes

There is no pure lean approach as demonstrated by the different descriptions of lean in the literature, which identifies a range of overlapping lean principles.

For example, Liker [1] has 14 principles, Womack and Jones [2] have five principles,  Shingo [3] also has five but different principles, and Anderson has five pillars [4]

Ohno’s [5] focus was to reduce the time from customer order to product delivery by eliminating waste. Arguably he preached many principles, even though they are not laid out as such.

The complexity of analysing lean is due to the specifics of each lean implementation being context dependent.

When Toyota was setting up a new plant in America, Liker and Hoseus noted that Toyota ‘‘. . .were not interested in teaching us to copy. They were trying to teach us to think and act in the Toyota Way’’ [6, p. xxii].

Therefore, for Toyota, it was more a philosophy of management combined with their experience of what was successful that was important.

Ohno was never keen on codifying method for the above reasons. John Seddon says

Ohno said “Don’t call it anything. If you call it something, managers will expect it to come in a box. He was right.”

Deming reminds us about the hazards of copying in his book Out of the Crisis.

Improvement of quality is a method, transferable to different problems and circumstances. It does not consist of cookbook procedures on file ready for specific application.

It is a hazard to copy. It is necessary to understand the theory of what one wishes to do or make. We are great copiers. The fact is that the Japanese learn the theory of what they wish to make, then improve on it.

This idea of copying reminds me of a great story from Deming, again in his book Out of the Crisis.

The management of a company that makes furniture, doing well, took it into their heads to expand their line into pianos. Why not make pianos? They bought a Steinway piano, took it apart, made or bought parts, and put a piano together exactly like the Steinway, only to discover that they could only get thuds out of their product. So they put the Steinway piano back together with the intention to get their money back on it, only to discover that it too would now only make thuds.

[1] J. K. Liker, The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

[2] J. P. Womack and D. T. Jones, Lean Thinking. London: Touchstone Books, 1997.

[3] S. Shingo, A Study of the Toyota Production System. Portland, Oregon: Productivity Press, 1981.

[4] David J Anderson, Is Kanban Just a Tool? http://agilemanagement.net/index.php/Blog/is_kanban_just_a_tool/

[5] T. Ohno, Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production. Portland, Oregon: Productivity Press, 1988.

[6] J. K. Liker and M. Hoseus, Toyota Culture: the Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.


2 thoughts on “14 Principles, 5 Principles, 5 Pillars, Which do you use?

  1. With a growing number of books and ample blogs, articles, videos and slide decks available on the web on the topic of Lean, KanBan, Kaizen, Gemba, VSM we are left to our own devices to go and figure it out……

  2. Useful post. Not only does this highlight the “lack of understanding of the TPS” but, implicitly, underlines the fact that Lean is many (different) things to many different people. And then there are Lean manufacturing’s sibling; Lean Service, Lean Product Development, Lean Construction, etc.. And its many cousins, including Theory of Constraints, Agile, Systems Thinking (various flavours) and so on. What do all these have in common? I would propose they all live under the umbrella of Synergistic thinking (cf the Marshall Model of Organisational Evolution).

    -Bob @FlowchainSensei

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