Lean starts with rules, not tools
If you have followed my hypothesis so far, you will understand that Toyota has mastered lean through the Toyota Production System to such a level that their performance is extremely robust to outside influences and that learning to be like Toyota requires a long, disciplined journey of learning, engagement and leadership. We have also described most lean transformation plans as efforts of mimicking Toyota. This is insufficient and can lead to disaster. More is needed to guide us that simple descriptions of another company’s operating system; therefore, we have crafted a set of principles to guide you through your lean transformation towards the ideal condition.
Principles, rules, theory and concepts are all examples of models. Models are by definition simplifications of reality. Because they are simplifications, there is no one model, no one theory, that is all encompassing and failsafe to use. Models should not be trusted. At the same time, we need them to guide us in action and decision-making. Without models such as principles and rules, life would just be a long series of random experiments without any ability to learn from one day to the next. For that reason, we have articulated a set of principles - a model - of what we think best describes lean systems. These principles can guide us as we learn, experiment and transform our organizations. These principles are not an attempt at completeness, but instead are crafted so that they are useful and effective principles to learn and internalize.
Using principles as a method to organize and align your organization for lean transformation will bring standardized thinking to your organization. Through that standardized thinking, people can work on making progress with a shared understanding of how the world works, or at least how the company will work. This will create both share mental models and shared vision among those engaged in the effort. Without shared mental models, the team responsible for lean transformation will have words with different meanings, tools with different purposes, and projects heading towards different visions. That is not a recipe for success. It may not be imperative that the team member’s mental models are identical with ours, but it is absolutely critical that their thinking is consistent with each other.