Lean Training Lineage Matters

Does the lineage of the training that you receive in Lean management matter? Does it make a difference if you learn Lean (Toyota Way + Toyota Production System) from current or former Toyota employees? I think it does. But it is not as simple as that. The image below explains why.


Most Lean consultants, perhaps 80 percent or more, have not been trained by Toyota or Shingijutsu. A great majority of them focus on a narrow aspect such as Lean tools, and give to us the unwanted gift of Fake Lean. Some have worked hard over time to gain a good understanding of Toyota Way + Toyota Production System and therefore do pretty good work, but they are very few in number.

Some Lean consultants, perhaps 18 percent, have been trained by Toyota or Shingijusu, but they choose to focus on narrow aspects of Lean resulting in incomplete application.

A small number, perhaps 2 percent, of consultants who have been trained by Toyota or Shingijutsu, have an excellent understanding and practice of Toyota Way + Toyota Production System. They have steadily improved their understanding and practice over time, and deliver REAL Lean to their clients. (Note: I am a teacherLean practitioner, scholar of Lean leadership and book author, not a consultant; see Question #1).

Former Toyota President Fujio Cho said: “Our way of thinking is very difficult to copy or even to understand.” And Cho’s successor, Katsuaki Watanabe, said: “There’s no end to the process of learning about the Toyota Way. I don’t think I have a complete understanding even today, and I have worked for the company for 43 years.” They should know.

Does training lineage matter? Yes, I think it does, in particular when it comes to  tacit knowledge. Something that is difficult to copy or understand necessarily embodies lots of  tacit knowledge. These nuances and details are critical for the development of an accurate understanding which, in turn, leads to correct practice.

There is a benefit to gaining the tacit knowledge that comes directly from former Toyota employees – especially those few who worked in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, when Mr. Taiichi Ohno was in charge of operations in Japan. When I learned shop floor kaizen from Shingijustu consultants, I learned a lot. But I learned a whole lot more about Toyota Way + Toyota Production System when I went to dinner with Shingijutsu consultants after the day’s kaizen. The tacit knowledge is what matters most.

It is possible to learn the tacit knowledge in other ways. For example, I have transformed the large volume of tacit knowledge that I learned into explicit knowledge that is contained in my Lean leadership books and academic papers. I have written a lot because there is a remarkable amount of tacit knowledge to convey. I too have found that there is no end to the process of learning about the Toyota Way. A  handful of books written by other authors over the last 25 years or so also convey tacit knowledge well (and now, some videos as well). But, to comprehend it requires careful, slow reading and extensive reflection, followed by diligent practice.

Lean training lineage matters, though it is not the only way to become a first-rate Lean thinker and practitioner.

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