HomeProduct DesignMethodologiesThe 14 Lean Principles of The Toyota Way

The 14 Lean Principles of The Toyota Way

To resume many of the lean principles of a company or attitude, one book is key. From the must-read book The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer (Dr Jeffrey Liker), Wikipedia, and other sources, with our own comments and additions, read on.

Lean Principles Automotive Factory
Lean Principles Automotive Factory

Toyota is among, if not the top, initial Lean practitioners at a big scale. The automotive industry asking for high volumes, high quality, and safety, yet with reasonable prices taking the complexity, materials, studies, and labor needed into account.

(FYI, the book/Wikipedia terminology is used for the lean principles to ease communication)

CategoryToyota Lean Principles
©J. Liker
Our Comments
Long-term philosophy


Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals

Obliges to define a long-term objective, and planning for these, including a budget, HR …

Refer to the Hoshin Kanri methodology to help here

The right process will produce the right results

do map processes
do map processes


Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface

Not only process but company attitude. It involves at minimum manufacturing + HR + Quality + Customer Support

No finger-pointing. Should be seen as an opportunity as in Golden Nuggets for innovation.

3Use “pull” systems to avoid overproduction

Look at the ERP, its settings may help or not here …

Note: this is the tip of the iceberg KPI. No process will be capable of Just In Time if too much WIP, or random Quality …

Structure your process in autonomous sub-teams, with some defined and controlled decision-making and problem-solving power.

4Level out the workload (heijunka). (“Work like the tortoise, not the hare“).Key for production organization: start with Takt Time definition and then level the individual processes cycle times to avoid bottlenecks or over-capacities. More on that in all process posts.
5Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first timeAmong others, see Design for Six Sigma (DfSS) articles
6Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment

No process can be measured and therefore improved if not repeatable. Standardization is the first step before drawing any conclusion

Real case: during an audit at a supplier’s assembly line, while observing that there was no instruction available for the workers at all, the answer was “Operators have all instructions in their head” 🙁

7Use visual control so no problems are hidden
8Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and processes

Is part of the technology selection. Needs to involve the full team (quality, process, purchasing) even -or especially- at the R&D phase. Reminder, 80% of the cost is decided at the design phase … so as later Quality KPIs.

See Agility and modern times about that.

Add value to the organization by developing your people9Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.

very structure-dependent (not all companies are Toyota).

Long-term leaders are ideal of course, but less and less the case in smaller Agile organizations (refer below). Other means of building and keeping know-how are also needed.

10Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy
11Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve

not only formal audits but even more upstream workshops, on-site continuous improvement, Kaizen, Blitz …

Tip: have your own clients participate in your activities, so as you with your suppliers

Continuously solving root problems drives organizational learning12Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation (Genchi Genbutsu)

≈ “where the value is created” philosophy.

Not only for HR efficiency but one of the keys to helping design the next product with production technologies and means in mind

13Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly (nemawashi)again, less and less the case in smaller Agile organizations (refer below)
14Become a learning organization through relentless reflection (hansei) and continuous improvement (kaizen)

Do put a process in place to formally capitalize the know-how. This is more and more needed as developers and teams are moving.

Tip: do separate the know-how from the mandatory company procedures (not to have to learn and validate 200+ procedures before starting to work when you join a company … all but Agile organization)

Lean Principles vs Agile Organisation

There is one aspect where these 14 Lean Principles are a bit outdated or would need some update: the Agility aspect of some models of modern organizations and development:

    • technologies and rhythm of changes evolve exponentially
    • customer demands, competition, and suppliers evolve very rapidly. Not on time = zero sell
    • people change much more jobs and the company
    • remote companies, remote work, and more and more outsourced teams and functions

So the lean principles #8, #9, #10, #13  would need to be amended, so as in some aspects #5

In some markets, having a new product every 1-2 years is a must

High Volume Assembly Line
High-Volume Assembly Line

…whether we like it or not (especially for the ecological aspect).

Ex: producing a new reliable high-volume phone model every year, implies either having technologies being chosen and validated years ahead or having an extremely efficient R&D, V&V, and production process. Most of the time both … or prepare your Customer Support team and financials to face issues or market recalls (antenna less effective, battery catching fire, foldable screens cracking …)

A Technology Roadmap process implemented in your R&D department is a must for this.

Exact matches only
include Online Tools
include Events


Share suggestions, corrections,  examples, experience or ideas that may be integrated in this article

In English, if Monday is the first day of the week, by which letter starts the third day? (correct answer is needed to be able to submit)


The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People animated slideshow

"7 Habits of Highly Effective People" made famous by Stephen R. Covey is powerfully summarized in seven(!) minutes,...

The 5 Japanese Lean Terms You Must Know in Manufacturing and Quality

For Manufacturing: the Japanese Lean terms are must-know vocabulary in manufacturing or quality as these have no direct...

3 Great Benefits of Color Coding in Product Design

Product designers and marketers can use color coding for 3 reasons: to convey a message, to convey a...

Best 40 TRIZ Principles to Boost Your Design Challenges

For product design engineers. The 40 TRIZ Principles are the solutions to solve the "TRIZ contradictions" in product...

90 Mechanical Principles to Get Savvy Design Solutions

Ralph Steiner's Mechanical Principles movie from 1930 is a brilliant way to get a fresh (!) reminder to...