Don't Blindly Copy the TPS House. Build Your Own.

house picThe Toyota Production System (TPS) "house" is the model home within the lean business system neighborhood. Its roof of highest quality, lowest cost and shortest lead time is supported by the two pillars of JIT and jidoka. These pillars rest upon a solid foundation of heijunka, standard work and kaizen, which itself rests upon a foundation of stability. Of course, there's a bit more to the house, not the least of which is the profound simplicity and synergy among these elements. It's core principles of humility and respect for the individual make it a beautiful house.

But despite its functionality and beauty, don't blindly copy the TPS house. It would be like trying to replicate the Mona Lisa with a paint-by-number set. How can you internalize something with such a sterile and mechanistic approach. Fujio Cho and others within Toyota have referred to TPS as the "Thinking Person's System."  Copying isn't thinking.

So, study TPS, learn by doing and then tailor it to your culture and to your vernacular...without gutting it. In other words, keep the pillars and foundations, but make it your house. By undertaking this activity, lean leaders have to think deeply and critically about the principles, systems and  tools. It will force  engagement in and around transformation at a cultural and technical level. It will compel a meaningful dialogue about horizontal and vertical alignment within the organization (think strategy deployment) and it will ultimately require the lean leaders to articulate the company's business system such that it can be understood by everyone within the organization. From this endeavor, the kaizen promotion office can develop the lean training curriculum and deliver it within perhaps a more relevant context.

Here's a few examples of some "custom houses." Of course, don't expect too much detail due to their proprietary nature:

Building your house should only be done after you've rented the TPS house first. Consider enlisting the help of your sensei. Know that it will take time before you have enough (very) basic understanding and organizational lean commitment to even think about building, but don't wait forever.

So, what's been your lean home building experience?

Related post: Everyone Is Special, But Lean Principles Are Universal!

There are 9 Comments

Henry David's picture


How true The Lean journey takes different twists and turns depending upon the culture of the organization. What was the starting point at one organization did not work for another...though in keeping with the house analogy, I need to be sure the "foundation" is set and hard before buliding upon it.

markrhamel's picture

Hi David,

Thanks for the comment. Right on, the principles are non-negotiable, as is the foundation. But, you need to make Lean your own. A straight copy of TPS is not necessarily the way to go.

Best regards,

Mark Welch's picture

Our hospital was led by senseis from a consulting company that advocated lean to be done purely in events and neglected to address the development of our leadership. What we later discovered was that lean leadership was critical and that doing lean in the 2-4 day event mode was very difficult for our small rural hospital - it put a lot of pressure on staffing needs. The event mode also stifled the development of culture in the various departments because staff felt they had to wait for events to make changes, which also led to them feeling like our lean system was "telling them what to do."

We are currently taking a step back and reconsidering our future direction. We have good, firm ideas, but need to discuss them with top management and get on the same page before moving forward.

markrhamel's picture

Hi Mark,

Yes, lean leadership is paramount to any successful transformation. It can't take be displaced or retarded by a purely "kaizen in a box" approach.

Kaizen events are critical to making step-function improvements (really it's kaikaku) and for teaching the organization how to do kaizen. Unfortunately, oftentimes kaizen event opportunities in health care are limited by physician and staff availability. Furthermore, clearly not everyone can participate in events, at least in the short-term. What sometimes happens is people falsely believe that they have to wait for the "kaizen event bus" to come along before that can make any improvements. This is the difference between system-driven kaizen which is purely event-based and pulled by things like value stream improvement plans and principle-driven kaizen which is system-driven kaizen PLUS daily kaizen. Daily kaizen is driven by engaged, empowered and trained employees and represents truly small incremental improvements through things like mini-kaizen events, kaizen circle activities and employee suggestions.

Best of luck with the re-start,

Jamie Flinchbaugh's picture

Or better yet, don't build your house at all, let it emerge.

I was part of building one of the most benchmarked "operating system", the Chrysler Operating System, which while it produced billions in savings ultimately was not sustained because the thinking / culture change wasn't there. But of course putting in on the wall doesn't make it so.

What I observe is that many companies get too focused on what's on the wall, on the piece of paper. What's on the piece of paper is not your operating system. Your daily actions and decisions is your real operating system. It might be an accidental system, and it might be planned. But don't focus on the paper; focus on the real changes.

Jamie Flinchbaugh

markrhamel's picture

Hi Jamie,

Hey, I couldn't find a picture of an emerging house!

I don't ever condone rushing to build your own house, but I do think that it is important to eventually get to it. It may takes many many many months, but, in my humble opinion, not years. Unstimulated, the gestation period can take a very long time. In the meantime, there can be a lack of clarity as to what and how and why lean...for you. Trying to build the house will force some necessary thinking and force leaders to confront, quite possibly, the cultural barriers.

Best regards,

Lean's picture


[...]Don't Blindly Copy the TPS House. Build Your Own. | Gemba Tales[...]...

markrhamel's picture


Thanks for the comment! The Toyota model is constitutive of principles that should work for all enterprises. It's really just a matter of tailoring the related systems and tools to make it work within the given value streams and culture(s).

Thanks for the the heads up on the link. I believe that Shingo has updated their website a bit. Try this link -

Best regards,

P.S. The dude abides...

Scott Evrard's picture

Mark - this is very timely for my new role and other efforts here to transform a large organization. Lessons learned and good advice are always welcome. The importance of a shared, organizationally evolved view of how value will be created is critical, especially in many organizations still intent on identifying ways in which the Toyota model is NOT applicable to the way work is done.

By the way, the last link to the Shingo Prize model didn't work for me. Let me know if it works for you.

Be well!