What is TPS

Guide: Toyota Production System (TPS)

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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is a game-changing manufacturing approach that has redefined efficiency and quality. It is a Toyota-developed system that focuses on reducing waste, increasing productivity, and maintaining high-quality standards. This guide delves deeply into TPS, from its fundamental principles and underlying philosophy to the tools and techniques that drive its implementation. We will also look at the system’s outcomes, benefits, and drawbacks, as well as offer advice on how to implement TPS in your own organization.

Table of Contents

Introduction to the Toyota Production System

Assume you’re preparing sandwiches for a party. You don’t want to make too many and waste them, or too few and leave your guests hungry. You’d want to make the perfect amount at the perfect time. In a nutshell, this is what the Toyota Production System aims to achieve in the manufacturing world.

The TPS is a method of organizing manufacturing and logistics in order to reduce waste, inconsistency, and unreasonable requirements, resulting in increased productivity. The goal is to efficiently produce high-quality goods while responding quickly to customer needs. This approach has changed the way businesses around the world think about production, making it an important contribution to the industrial world.

The Toyota Production System House

Let us now return to the mid-twentieth century, when TPS was born. Toyota, a Japanese automaker, was contending with limited resources and the need to compete with larger, more established Western automakers. They needed a new manufacturing strategy to help them catch up. This resulted in the creation of TPS.

The system was critical in Toyota’s transformation from a small company to the world’s largest automaker. It enabled Toyota to produce a wide range of vehicles in much smaller quantities for each model while maintaining productivity. This adaptability, combined with the system’s emphasis on continuous improvement and waste elimination, proved to be a game changer not only for Toyota, but for the entire automotive industry and beyond.

TPS has since been adopted and adapted by countless companies across a wide range of industries worldwide, making it a cornerstone of modern manufacturing and logistics. Its principles have proven to be effective time and again, highlighting its historical significance as well as its ongoing relevance in today’s dynamic business environment.

Philosophy Behind TPS

The Toyota Production System is more than just a more efficient way of producing cars or any other product; it is also a deeply rooted philosophy that guides how work is done. This philosophy serves as TPS’s backbone, supporting and guiding everything else.

This philosophy is based on two central concepts: continuous improvement and respect for people.

Continuous Improvement is like always trying to make your favourite recipe even better. It entails constantly looking for ways to improve efficiency, produce higher-quality products, and eliminate anything that does not add value (waste). This concept is known as “Kaizen” in TPS. It’s all about making small changes that add up to big gains over time.

Respect for People, on the other hand, entails treating everyone involved in the production process with dignity and respect, from factory workers to company executives and even customers. It is about creating an environment in which everyone’s voice is heard and their contributions are valued. It’s also about being a responsible member of society by producing safe, high-quality products while minimizing the negative environmental impacts of production.

TPS combines these two concepts. Respecting people fosters an environment in which everyone feels empowered to contribute to ongoing improvement. And by constantly improving, you create better working conditions and products that benefit both people and society.

So, while TPS is frequently discussed in terms of tools and techniques, it’s critical to remember that they’re all based on a foundation of respect for people and continuous improvement. TPS would not be the transformative system that it is today without this philosophical foundation.

Core Principles of TPS

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is based on several key principles that work in tandem to make the system unique and effective. Consider these principles to be ingredients in a recipe; each one is required and contributes to the final product.

Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing:

Just-in-Time is like cooking your pasta so that it is ready when your guests arrive for dinner, not before or after. JIT manufacturing refers to producing only what is required, when it is required, and in the exact quantity required. The goal is to reduce waste caused by overproduction and storage while also responding quickly to changes in customer demand.

Assume you’re a toy manufacturer. You wouldn’t make a bunch of toys and store them in a warehouse hoping they’d sell with JIT. Instead, you’ll begin production when customers place orders, and you’ll only produce enough to meet those orders.

Jidoka (Autonomation):

Jidoka is similar to having a smoke detector in your kitchen—it alerts you when something begins to burn, allowing you to stop cooking and avoid a disaster. Jidoka in TPS means that machines are designed to detect problems and stop automatically when they occur. This prevents the production of defective products and allows workers to address the issue immediately.

Consider a machine that manufactures car parts. If the machine starts producing defective parts, it will immediately stop. This allows workers to address the issue before more defective parts are manufactured.

Heijunka (Leveling):

Heijunka is similar to planning your weekly meals to ensure you have a balanced diet. TPS refers to balancing the production schedule so that a consistent amount of different products are produced each day, rather than producing a large quantity of one product one day and another the next. This contributes to a smoother workflow and less strain on people and machines.

For example, if a factory produces both cars and trucks, they will not produce all of the cars on Monday and all of the trucks on Tuesday using Heijunka. Instead, to balance the workload, they will produce a mix of cars and trucks every day.

Continuous Improvement (Kaizen):

Kaizen is analogous to attempting to beat your personal best time in running. It entails constantly looking for ways to improve, no matter how minor the improvement may appear. TPS defines Kaizen as “constant, small improvements to processes that can lead to significant improvements over time.”

Workers, for example, may suggest a new way to organize their tools that saves a few seconds of work. While this may not appear to be a big deal at first, those seconds add up over time, resulting in significant time savings and increased efficiency.

Each of these principles is important in TPS because it helps to reduce waste, improve efficiency, and ensure the production of high-quality products.

Tools and Techniques of TPS

Toyota Production System (TPS) principles are implemented using a variety of tools and techniques. These tools, like kitchen utensils, each serve a specific purpose and aid in the preparation of a meal.


Kanban is analogous to bringing a shopping list to the grocery store. It is a visual tool that aids in workflow management by signaling when new work should begin or inventory should be replenished. A Kanban in a factory could be a card attached to a box of parts. The card is returned to the supplier when the box is empty, indicating that more parts are required.


Andon is analogous to the red light on your car’s dashboard that illuminates when there is a problem. It is a visual aid that indicates when an issue occurs during the manufacturing process. This could be a light on a machine that illuminates when it stops working or an alarm that sounds when a quality problem is detected. It allows everyone to see when and where problems occur, allowing them to be addressed as soon as possible.


Poka-yoke functions similarly to a round peg that can only fit into a round hole in that it prevents mistakes from occurring in the first place. This could be a tool that only allows the correct assembly of parts or a scanner that checks barcodes to ensure the correct parts are used. Poka-yoke contributes to high-quality products by preventing errors.

SMED (Single-Minute Die Exchange):

SMED is like being able to switch from baking cookies to baking a cake in your kitchen in a matter of seconds. It’s a manufacturing technique for shortening the time it takes to switch from one product to another. This enables smaller production batches and greater responsiveness to customer demand.

Each of these tools and techniques is essential in TPS. Kanban and Andon aid in the implementation of Just-in-Time and Jidoka by signalling when work should begin or when issues arise. Poka-yoke ensures high-quality products by eliminating errors. SMED also improves flexibility and efficiency by shortening setup times. These tools, when used together, aid in the implementation of TPS principles in factory operations.

Outcomes and Benefits of TPS

The Toyota Production System (TPS) has proven to be a powerful manufacturing approach with numerous advantages. It’s similar to planting a seed: with the proper care and conditions, it can grow into a healthy tree.

TPS, when implemented correctly, can result in significant productivity gains. It’s the equivalent of discovering a new route to work that cuts your commute time in half. TPS enables businesses to produce more with fewer resources by eliminating waste and improving processes.

TPS also aids in the improvement of product quality. It’s the equivalent of hiring a master chef to prepare your meals. TPS ensures that the products coming off the production line meet high quality standards by focusing on defect prevention and problem solving at the source.

TPS can also increase efficiency. It’s similar to organizing your kitchen so that everything you need is easily accessible. TPS allows work to flow smoothly and quickly through the production system by streamlining processes and balancing workload.

Let’s take a look at some companies that have successfully implemented TPS:

    • Toyota: As the inventor of TPS, Toyota is the poster child for its success. TPS enabled Toyota to become one of the world’s leading automakers. They were able to efficiently manufacture a wide range of vehicles, respond quickly to changes in demand, and consistently produce high-quality vehicles.

    • Danaher Corporation (Danaher): Danaher, an American multinational conglomerate with products in the environmental, test/measurement, industrial technologies, and life sciences sectors, implemented TPS principles in their manufacturing process. As a result, productivity increased, product quality improved, and profitability increased.

These examples demonstrate TPS’s potential. Companies can transform their production processes by implementing its principles, tools, and techniques, resulting in better products, happier customers, and a healthier bottom line.

Challenges and Criticisms of TPS

While the Toyota Production System has many advantages, it is not without its challenges and criticisms, similar to attempting to master a complex recipe. To get it right, it takes time, effort, and the right ingredients.

The required cultural shift is a common challenge. TPS is about changing people’s attitudes and behaviors, not just processes. From the factory floor to the executive suite, everyone must be committed to continuous improvement and waste reduction. This can be difficult in a resistant-to-change culture.

Furthermore, implementing TPS necessitates a significant time and resource investment. Employee training, process redesign, and system implementation all take time and money. Some businesses may struggle to find the necessary resources or may not see immediate returns on their investment.

Some critics argue that TPS places too much pressure on employees. High-stress work environments can result from an emphasis on efficiency and continuous improvement. Others argue that focusing on reducing waste and inventory can leave businesses vulnerable to supply chain disruptions.

These challenges and criticisms, however, can be addressed. Leadership, training, and communication can all help to facilitate the cultural shift. Employees must understand why changes are being implemented and how they will benefit.

TPS investment can be viewed as just that—an investment. While the initial costs may be high, long-term gains in efficiency, productivity, and quality can more than compensate.

Regarding the criticisms, keep in mind that TPS is about respect for people as well as continuous improvement. This entails creating a workplace that values employees and cares about their well-being. It also entails having backup plans in place to deal with supply chain disruptions.

Finally, implementing TPS is a balancing act. It’s all about finding the right balance of efficiency, quality, and human respect. While it is not without difficulties, the potential benefits can make the effort worthwhile.

Implementing TPS in Your Organization

  • Understand the Principles: Before you can begin implementing TPS, you must first understand its fundamentals. Just-in-Time, Jidoka, Heijunka, and Kaizen are all examples. It’s similar to learning the rules of the road before getting behind the wheel.
  • Commit to the Philosophy: Next, you must commit to the philosophy of continuous improvement and human respect. This commitment must come from the top and be clearly communicated to all employees.
  • Evaluate Your Current Situation: Just as you must know where you are starting from in order to plan a journey, you must understand your current processes and performance. This can be accomplished using techniques such as Value Stream Mapping.
  • Identify Improvement Opportunities: Look for areas where you can cut waste, improve processes, and better align production with demand. This could range from inventory reduction to workspace reorganization.
  • Implement Changes: Put the changes you’ve identified into action. This could include the implementation of new tools, the retraining of employees, or the redesign of processes. Remember, TPS is all about incremental improvement.
  • Measure Results: Just as you would check a map to ensure you’re on the right track, you should measure your results to ensure your changes are having the desired effect.
  • Constantly Improve: TPS is a never-ending journey. There is always room for improvement. Continue to look for ways to cut waste, improve processes, and boost efficiency.

TPS implementation is not without challenges. These can include resistance to change, a lack of understanding of TPS principles, and the difficulty of altering established processes. Effective communication, training, and leadership can help to overcome these obstacles.

Finally, commitment is essential for successful TPS implementation. Commitment to the philosophy, principles, and commitment to continuous improvement. You can navigate the journey of TPS implementation and arrive at your destination of improved efficiency, quality, and productivity with commitment, persistence, and a clear plan.


In closing, the Toyota Production System offers valuable insights and methodologies for achieving operational excellence. Despite its challenges and criticisms, its core principles of waste elimination, continuous improvement, and human respect have proven to be universally beneficial. TPS will continue to guide firms in their pursuit of efficiency, quality, and long-term growth as manufacturing evolves. Whether you’re new to TPS or want to learn more, we hope this guide has given you valuable insights into this remarkable system.


A: The Toyota Production System (TPS) is a manufacturing philosophy developed by Toyota that focuses on eliminating waste and continuously improving processes to increase efficiency and quality.

A: The core principles of TPS are Just-in-Time (producing only what is needed, when it’s needed), Jidoka (automation with a human touch), Heijunka (leveling production), and Kaizen (continuous improvement).

A: Common tools used in TPS include Kanban (a signaling system to start work), Andon (a system to signal problems), Poka-yoke (error-proofing methods), and SMED (Single-Minute Exchange of Die, a system for reducing setup times).

A: Implementing TPS can lead to a range of benefits including improved productivity, increased efficiency, higher quality products, and a reduction in waste.

A: Some challenges of implementing TPS include overcoming resistance to change, the initial investment of time and resources, and maintaining the focus on continuous improvement over the long term.

A: Implementing TPS in your organization involves understanding and committing to the principles of TPS, assessing your current processes, identifying opportunities for improvement, implementing changes, measuring results, and continually seeking improvements.

A: While TPS was developed in a manufacturing context, its principles can be applied to any industry or organization that aims to improve efficiency, reduce waste, and increase quality. This includes service industries, healthcare, software development, and more.


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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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