Learn Four Strategies To Start Improving Any Area Of Your Business

Our Blog

Top 5 Influencers of the Toyota Production System (TPS)

Apr 25, 2014 | Posted by Matt Elson

Top 5 Influencers of the Toyota Production System (TPS)

Today’s blog post on the Toyota Production System is based on some information we posted through the TnT Linked profile a few months back, and due to it’s popularity, I decided to post it here!

The Toyota Production System (TPS) has been developed, refined and improved over the course of many decades.  While there have been many major influences in it’s development, the strength of the system is the fact that everyone continues to improve upon it, based on their own experiences.  At TnT, we believe that this is main difference between true TPS or continuous improvement culture, versus what has become known as “lean”.  The Toyota Production System focuses on human development…increasing the capacity of people to look at things differently, and to make daily (hourly!) improvements to their processes in terms of safety, quality, quantity and cost.  In our experience with “lean”, it  seems to be focused on application of tools and the elimination of waste.  While waste elimination is a great activity, it can’t be at the expense of the core purpose of TPS, continuous improvement or the kaizen mindset:  unleashing the limitless potential in your people!

Saying that, here’s our list of the Top 5 Influencers in the development of the Toyota Production System, and what some of the main contributions were:

1)  Sakichi Toyoda

Sakichi Toyoda

Known as the father of the Japanese industrial revolution, Sakichi invented the modern power loom after watching his grandmother and her friends struggle with ineffective manual looms while weaving cloth.  Sakichi pioneered the central concepts of Jidoka (bestowing human intelligence into a machine so that it can stop when a problem occurs) and 5 Why questioning to solve the root cause of a problem.

In 1926, Toyoda the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works  (now Toyota Industries Corporation), which revolutionized the the textile industry in Japan and around the world.


2)  Henry Ford

Henry Ford_2

No list would be complete without mentioning Henry Ford.  The creator of “Fordism”, the concept of mass production of inexpensive goods (using the first assembly line) combined with high worker wages (“The Five Dollar Work Day” astonished the entire world at the time), Ford was revered with near mythical status as Toyota.  It’s worth noting that Eiji Toyoda (see below) was awed by the scale of Ford’s River Rouge plant, he was critical of the inefficiencies he witnessed’ this was to prove the fateful twist of TPS development.

Ford’s contributions to manufacturing are many, but we focus on the concept of work flow and the standardization of tasks that would influence Toyota and the Toyota Production system the most.


3)  Eiji Toyoda

Eiji Toyoda

Eiji was the longest serving President in Toyota history (1967 – 1981), and was “largely responsible for increasing Toyota Motor Corporation’s profitability and worldwide prominence.”  Along with Ohno, he pioneered the concepts that would later become the Toyota Way, including kanban and kaizen as a method for continuous improvement.

After his death, David Cole, former chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, said “He was a real visionary and inspirational leader who understood what it would take to make Toyota a successful company.”


4)  W. Edwards Deming

W. Edwards Demming

Best known for his work in post-war Japan, Deming was instrumental in helping rebuild the Japanese economy into a global powerhouse.  ”Many in Japan credit with being the inspiration for what has become known as the Japanese Miracle of 1950 to 1960, rising from the ashes of war to become the second most powerful economy in the world in less than a decade, founded on the ideas first taught to them by Dr Deming.” (Wikipedia).

His infamous “Plan – Do – Check – Act” (PDCA) cycle, along with his concepts of statistical improvement of design and quality are cornerstones of the Toyota Production System.


5)  Shigeo Shingo

Shigeo Shingo

Largely responsibly for recording and codifying TPS, Shingo is regarded “as the world’s leading expert on manufacturing practices and the Toyota Production System.”  While some feel his contributions are not as important as others, there is no denying that he had an impact on continuous improvement thinking, through the concepts of poka-yoke (mistake proofing) and SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Die).


No list would be complete without reference to the “Father of the Toyota Production System”, Taiichi Ohno.  Ohno is our “+1″ for today’s Top 5 Friday post, taking the top of the podium!

 Top Influencer : Taiichi Ohno

Taiichi Ohno

Legendary for both his fiery temperament and exasperation when dealing with people with “grey thinking”, Ohno was the driving force behind the Toyota Production System.  Rising through the ranks, first as a loom works machinist, he became one of the best known and well respected manufacturing experts in the world.  If you want to read about TPS, the only book I would recommend is Ohno’s Toyota Production System:  Beyond Large Scale Production.  Short on technical information (you can’t learn TPS from a book!), it’s great for trying to understand the underlying thinking behind the system.


I’ll end off this post with two of my favourite Ohno quotes:

“All we are doing is looking at the time line, from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing the time line by reducing the non-value adding wastes.”

“Costs do not exist to be calculated.  Costs exist to be reduced.”

Simple genius.



Learn Four Strategies To Start Improving Any Area Of Your Business