Practice Over Theory

Here is a bit of history for those interested. I received a question about the first Toyota Production System manual ever written. For many years the primary driver of the Lean / TPS efforts inside of Toyota was of course Taiichi Ohno. However for almost two decades he opposed the codification of the system into any type of manual. Some people have interpreted that reluctance over the years as his desire to keep the system secret. And that may have played a small role in his thinking.

However when I ask people that actually worked with him for several decades they give a different response. Quite simply they state TPS is like a “skill” and that is not something you pick up from reading a book. For example you don’t get good at golf by just reading – you actually have to go out and play the game and learn to improve!

Eventually Toyota did draft an internal TPS manual in 1973 for codification reasons, training and development needs, and explanations to suppliers, etc. The manual had several authors and the most famous was a young Fujio Cho who later became President and CEO of the company. The manual was edited by my good friend and mentor Isao Kato who also worked closely with John Shook current LEI President and Chairman for many years.

Taiichi Ohno wrote the forward to the manual and entitled it 論より実践 in Japanese which basically translates to “Practice Over Theory” in English…More specifically it states Ohno’s preference for actual facts, data, information and active skill gained from first hand experience over passive book based learning. It is an important reminder to organizations attempting improvements. You can’t just think or read your way to Lean. It requires getting your hands dirty and learning by doing just like any other skill.

The rest of the numbered passages mentioned on the slide below are not direct quotes from Ohno and his one page forward to the manual. They are from latter pages most likely drafted by Fujio Cho or Isao Kato both of whom were influenced by Ohno for decades.