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Lean Tools, Training, and Systems

Lean Principles

Online training with Excel templates to consistently apply the principles of lean

If all that you're looking for

is a list of Toyota's 14 Lean Principles,

then here is that list (at the top of this page)

Tip: Scroll down for other useful perspectives and insights for Principles of Lean


Toyota's 14 Principles of Lean

  1. Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy

    even at the expense of short-term financial goals

  2. Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface

    See training for the lean principles of lean flow

  3. Use "pull" systems to avoid overproduction

    See training and tools for pull systems

  4. Level out the workload (work like the tortoise, not the hare)

    See training and tools for the lean principles of heijunka level loading

  5. Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first time

    See training and tools for the lean principles of jidoka problem swarming

  6. Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment

    See training and tools for the lean principles of standard work

messy boys

Who needs standard work?

  1. Use visual control so no problems are hidden

    See training and tools for visual controls

  2. Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and process

    See Systems2win templates for process improvement

  3. Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others

    See training and tools for Lean Leadership

  4. Develop exceptional people and teams

    who follow your company's philosophy

  5. Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers

    by challenging them and helping them improve

  6. Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation

    See training and tools for Process Observation

  7. Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly

    See training and tools for Problem Solving and Decision Making

  8. Become a learning organization through relentless reflection and continuous improvement

    See training and tools for Hansei reflection

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Those are Toyota's classic 14 Principles of Lean (above)

Here are some more...


Lean Principles

Lean Objectives foundational to your Vision and Values for lean continuous improvement

Every Lean Implementation is an Invention

There is no such thing as 'cookie cutter' lean

You can't just "do over here what they did over there".

You can't just "hire someone who used to work at Toyota".

You can't just "buy some lean tools with online training", and then expect them to be used effectively.

(despite all of our efforts to try to come close to that ideal...)

cookie cutter

Tools do not answer the question of "why", only the question of "how".

A guiding principle answers the question of "why".

When people understand why, they become empowered... to make good decisions.

~ Excerpts from the Shingo Model Handbook


Lean Principles

Don't Reinvent

Why re-invent?

Why re-invent?

Yes, Lean Principle # 1 is "Every Lean Implementation is an Invention"

but that doesn't mean that you want to start from a state of ignorance.

Start with field-proven Lean Systems

and then... make them your own

These Lean Principles are Common to any Lean Systems

As you continuously improve your own lean systems for your own unique organization and culture, make sure that your inventions always stay true to these 'True North' lean principles.

If people just backslide into old habits, then why even try to improve?

In a lean organization, every routine process has standard work, and every manager and leader (even the CEO) devotes a percentage of their day to Leader Standard Work.


What's so wrong with backsliding into old habits?

Job Security Promise

If your leaders have not yet established
job security,
then you do not have a Lean Culture.

Many MBA schools still teach 'Management By Objective' (MBO), which encourages managers to establish a goal, and then 'give your people the freedom' to reach that goal in their own creative way.

MBO is incompatible with Lean. If you're going to be a successful manager in a lean organization, then, yes, you will participate in choosing your team's next Strategic Challenge to support strategic direction, and yes, you will empower your people to come up with creative ways to make those goals happen, but you will be very interested and involved in the details of how they do it.

Value Stream Map

Value Stream Mapping
isn't even the most visible evidence of value stream management


Your lean objective
is throughput, not output

(Inventory that is sold,
not just produced)

Managers don't just dictatorially command their people to "think better".

They provide tools, systems, and one-on-one coaching for Hansei Lean Thinking. (Systems for how to think better)

Perhaps it might be worthwhile to evaluate whether Systems2win training and coaching services might prove useful for the highest-level coaches in your organization?


There are more principles of lean

As you progress on your own lean journey toward lean transformation, you will discover additional lean objectives and ideals, but this is a pretty good list to bookmark and come back to... often.

yellow brick road

Road map for a typical
Lean Transformation


Lean Principles

Lean Ideals provide 'True North' direction

Lean Ideals are impossible...

That's why they're called ideals.

Their purpose is to provide 'True North' direction — toward which every member of your organization is commonly striving, and yet will never fully reach.


Lean Ideals are a vision...

If your organization has a written Vision Statement, it will undoubtedly include most of the following lean objectives and ideals that are common to every lean organization.

And if your organization does not yet have a Vision Statement, then you might save some time and just get started with these...

Paper waste

All lean objectives
reduce or eliminate
the 7 types of waste


Manage to a Strategic Challenge

A Strategic Challenge is the link between PDCA and your Strategic Plan

Lean Principles and Ideals are too vague and distant to serve as useful guides for daily kaizen and PDCA Coaching Cycles.

Even your Strategic Plan or Annual Hoshin is too high-level to serve as a useful guide for daily process improvements.

A shorter-horizon 'Strategic Challenge' (established by your mid-level manager) provides a clear direction for what is needed from your team to support the other teams that will depend on you when you all reach the next resting place on your never-ending lean journey toward your never-changing lean principles.

Strategic Targets are the links between PDCA and your Strategic Plan

Criteria for a Strategic Challenge

Your mid-level manager needs to come up with a Strategic Challenge for your Value Stream and/or Department that meets the following criteria.

1. A compelling description of a desirable state

A process breakthrough that will bring competitive advantage

Condensed to a compelling short rallying cry to focus the team's attention and effort.


Wouldn't it be great if we could... Rally Cry
make any item the same day that it's ordered, and ship the next day Ship tomorrow
get the results of any lab test back within 2 hours Know today
completely eliminate safety accidents No accidents

2. Far enough away to be a stretch

It can't be done with existing processes in their current conditions

3. Believable

Close enough to be within reach
(believably achievable within 3 to 30 months)

4. Clearly defined outcomes

Clearly defined measures and targets for process results that must (somehow) be achieved

The leader for each area of responsibility works with his or her coach
(at the next higher level)

to determine the capabilities needed from each value stream, value stream loop, department, process, and supporting function — in order to support the stretch goals of the next higher level

thereby uniting every effort at every level of the organization to pull together to support the highest level strategic plan.

5. Many options to reach those outcomes

Plenty of options for scientific experimentation for HOW to produce those desired outcomes

Puzzling enough that the details for how to reach those measures are not already obvious

If there is no 'unclear territory', then you have set your Strategic Targets too low

What's the point of conducting PDCA scientific experiments if you think you already know the answers?


Navigating unknown territory?

Use PDCA Coaching

How to choose your next Strategic Challenge

Value Stream Map

The most common way to identify potential strategic targets is to create Current State and Future State Value Stream Maps.

What does each value stream need to deliver?

What does each loop within each value stream need to deliver?

      A "loop" is a section of a value stream

Start with Flow

As explained in our online training for What is a Lean Journey?

If you still have any value stream (or segment of a supporting value stream) that is not yet in a sustainable state of lean flow...

then there should be nothing strategic to think about.

The strategic challenge for that value stream (or segment) needs to start with Lean Flow

And you can't have Lean Flow without Standard Work.

Money flow

Why is flow so important?

See more training for how to choose a well-considered Next Target Condition

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Suggested Reading and Resources for

the Principles of Lean

Remember, whenever you don't immediately find what you're looking for,

you can browse the Systems2win Site Map

or use Google Site Search (in the upper right corner of every web page)

The Shingo Model

The Shingo Principles of Operational Excellence provide a comprehensive and well-thought-out summary of lean principles.

Shingo Guiding Principles

Source: Shingo Institute

You can download the Shingo Model Handbook and Poster at

After you download your (free) handbook, you will want to set aside about an hour to read and thoroughly digest their:

Tools do no answer the question of "why", only the question of "how".

A guiding principle answers the question of "why".

When people understand why, they become empowered... to make good decisions.

~ Excerpts from the Shingo Model Handbook

More Lean Principles

A frequently cited reference for Lean Principles is Jeffrey Liker's book, The Toyota Way.

5 Steps of Lean

When you search for 'Lean Principles' within The Lean Enterprise Institute, (, you will find their 5 Steps of Lean as well as an interesting article about early sources of lean principles (pre-dating Toyota).

Lean Manufacturing Principles

What's the difference between Lean Principles and Lean Manufacturing Principles?


It doesn't matter whether the process that you are improving is for lean healthcare, or lean office, lean service, or lean government...

Lean principles, objectives, and ideals remain the same.


The Toyota 4 Rules In Use

In their paper Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System, Harvard Business Review, 1999, Steven Spear and H. Kent Bowen boiled down the essence of all lean systems to these Lean 4 Rules In Use:

Rule 1) Clearly specify all Activities

Standardize work

Rule 2) Clearly define all Connections
to every customer and supplier

No ambiguity

Rule 3) Clearly define all Pathways

Organize for uninterrupted flow

Rule 4) Continuously Improve

Develop leaders who can apply the scientific method to improve anything

Gemba Interview Questionnaire

Use your Gemba Interview Questionnaire (GembaInterview.xlsx)

to ensure that you:

A3 Interview

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Learn even more about the Principles of Lean