The Top 10 Titans of TPS

Posted on 10 Feb 2009 by The Manufacturer

Jon Miller of Gemba research reveals the top 10 (read 12) figures who have shaped the history of the Toyota Production System...

A question from Sean, one of Jon’s avid readers:

“Who would you consider to be the titans of the TPS? Certainly, there was Ohno and Shingo, but is there anyone else that should be on the list?

I like to connect the history to people because it shows that the Lean philosophy did not come down from the mountaintop; it was created by people working and improving every day.”

This list of the top 10 titans of TPS is highly subjective and is organized in loose historical order, not in ranking by importance. It’s a top 10 list, but we cranked it up to 11. And there are 12 people on the list, if you’re counting…

Henry Ford

1. Henry Ford was the founder of the Ford Motor Company. He revolutionized repetitive manufacturing of automobiles through standardization of parts, the moving assembly line and continuous improvement or product and process. Inspired imitation by Toyoda family to build automobiles.

Words of this titan:

“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”

Sakichi Toyoda

2. Sakichi Toyoda was and inventor, industrialist, and founder of Toyota Looms Works. He gave us the jidoka concept, inspired the Toyota Precepts and set the development of the Toyota Production System in motion.

Words of the titan:

“Everyone should tackle some great project at least once in their life.”

3. Charles R. Allen created and taught the methodologies which were developed into Job Instruction and eventually Training Within Industry during World War II. His book The Instructor, the Man, and the Job is mentioned several times in the TWI Report. He also wrote The Foreman and His Job with early examples of job breakdown for the foreman.

Words of this titan probably said, if not inspired:

“If the learner hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.”

Kiichiro Toyoda

4. Kiichiro Toyoda had the vision to exit the loom business and enter the automobile business. He studied modern manufacturing methods and coined the “just in time” production approach which became the second pillar of TPS along with jidoka. Kiichiro also demonstrated principle and leadership by resigning when his company was forced to reorganize and lay off a large number of people.

Quote in reaction to the theft of designs for Toyoda looms:

“They do not have the expertise gained from the failures it took to produce the original. We need not be concerned. We need only continue as always, making our improvements.”

Frank G. Woollard

5. Frank G. Woollard. Frank who? I learned of the amazing work of Frank Woollard only recently thanks to the book Bob Emiliani rediscovered and published recently, Principles of Mass and Flow Production. It was first published 55 years ago, and Woollard’s “Some Notes on British Methods of Continuous Production” dates all the way back to 1925. While it’s very possible that the TPS was an independent and parallel invention by Toyota and Woollard’s Morris Motors. Bob Emiliani makes a good case for Woollard’s work and writing being the direct inspiration for Kiichiro Toyoda and others. This could be the most controversial bit of news to hit the TPS community since… ever!

The unknown titan’s quote:

“The ideal of continuous flow must be present from the design and raw material stages up to and even beyond the sales stage.”

Eiji Toyoda

6. Eiji Toyoda had Taiichi Ohno’s back all the way as Ohno fought to change the basic way that Toyota manufactured automobiles, trained people and improved processes. Ohno explicitly credits Eiji Toyoda many times in his writing with making his work possible.

Words of this titan to his executives:

“I want you to use your own heads. And I want you actively to train your people on how to think for themselves.”

Frank and Lilian Gilbreth

7. Frank Gilbreth and Lilian Gilbreth were thought leaders on efficiency improvement. They were cited repeatedly by my teachers as pioneers in practical industrial engineering, and they created the charming movie Cheaper by the Dozen which sometimes took efficiency comically a bit too far…

Quote from Mr. Gilbreth:

“No person with inner dignity is ever embarrassed.”

Taiichi Ohno

8. Taiichi Ohno was the man who drove the development and practical application of the Toyota Production System. He taught leadership by example, the 5 why process of root cause analysis, and the relentless kaizen spirit to many.


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

W. Edwards Deming

9. William Edwards Deming brought statistical quality control, the PDCA cycle and an entire management philosophy of quality to the Japanese. He had earlier brought the same to the Americans, but we didn’t listen…

Titan’s quote:

“It is not necessary to change, survival is not mandatory.”

Kaoru Ishikawa

10. Kaoru Ishikawa made statistical quality improvement tools practical and applicable by identifying the 7 QC Tools as the most accessible and useful to QC Circles. Invented the Ishikawa Diagram, a.k.a. Fishbone Diagram or Cause and Effect Diagram.


“Quality control begins and ends with education.”

Peter Drucker

11. Peter Drucker. Where to start with this man’s contribution… We could say that he wrote the book on modern management. In fact he wrote 39. The results of his in-depth 2-year study of GM was published in 1946, titled Concept of the Corporation. It was not well-received by GM, but the instruction on how GM might shore up weak spots across its enterprise was certainly were not lost on Japanese automobile manufacturers fighting to catch up with GM and Ford. Drucker promoted the concept of the knowledge worker and consulted with many companies and senior executives, including Shoichiro Toyoda.

Three of many great quotes:

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

By Jon Miller – Co-Founder of Gemba Research and author of Gemba Panta Rei blog.

Are there any gurus that Jon’s overlooked? Tell us about them in the comments