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The Toyota Way

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In The Toyota Way, Jeffrey Liker takes the reader on a journey that highlights the factors and history that led to the development of what we now call “Lean Production or lean” by the Toyoda family and what would become the Toyota Motor Corporation. Liker identifies 14 management principles used by Toyota, classifies them into four themed groups, and then describes each principle with examples and recommendations for practical application. He concludes with an examination of how this collection of principles, The Toyota Way, can be adapted and applied to other organizations and across other industries.

Key Points / Themes

  • The Toyota Way (lean) is not a collection of tools. It is a culture that must be fully supported and reinforced from the top of the organization downward.
  • To be a truly lean organization, the focus must be on the long term rather than short term gains. The drive for short-term gains (such as a quarterly report) is antithetical to building a lean culture.
  • Grow leaders from within the organization; leaders who know the culture, the people, the work, the process and who live out the philosophy.


As one considers The Toyota Way, it is important to consider how it contributes to the body of knowledge quality and quality organizations. As this book is the kickoff to a three part series on Lean Six Sigma; one can specifically ask how this book contributes to that topic.

An area that immediately stands out is Liker’s emphasis on building a sustainable lean culture. Many books on the collective Lean Six Sigma topic focus on the use of tools and methods for arriving at a lean organization or a lean process within an organization. Liker takes a fundamentally different approach to the same goal. His theory is that lean is not a system of tools and methods, but rather a philosophy that is manifested in a company’s culture.

According to this theory, the best (Liker would even say the only) way to become a lean organization is to instill a long-term lean philosophy starting with the highest levels of leadership. This philosophy should be reflected in decisions made regarding business direction, hiring/promotions, and in what activities are rewarded. Liker contends that only after this philosophy has taken hold in the form of a lean organizational culture can an organization truly become lean.

Questions/Ideas to Consider

  1. What principle(s) does your organization utilize well?
  2. What principle(s) does your organization struggle to embrace or implement and how could that be overcome?
  3. What principle or area do you think would have the biggest impact on your organization?
  4. What do you think about Liker’s contention that building a lean organization starts with building a lean culture?
    • Do you find that to be true in your organization? If not, why do think that is?
    • If this is true, how can you affect/grow that culture in your current position/role?

What’s Next?

Next month we review The New Economics by W. Edwards Deming.

In the meantime, consider the questions above. We’d love to hear about lean initiatives in your organization, both good and bad.

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