How do the Toyota Production System and Healthcare Connect?

Patients are not widgets and healing is not a production line. So how do the Toyota Production System and Healthcare connect? Read on to find out how!

Lean Management History

The history of the lean concept grew out of the Toyota Motor Company established by Sakichi Toyoda in 1935. In 1950 Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno studied Western car production because the Japanese output was far less than the US output. Ohno observed two major flaws: large batches that created large inventory, and manufacturing methods that preferred large production over customer preferences. Through observation and small incremental changes the Toyota Production System (TPS) was created to make Toyota a world class auto manufacturer. How did they do it? They utilized the lean principles to manage production, employees, and even suppliers.

Lean Management Connection to All Industries

In 1990 the book The Machine that Changed the World coined the term "lean" production. The authors, Womack, Jones, and Roos, did a 5-million dollar 5-year study and postulated that the manufacturing and technology problems are universal to all of business management. This "transference" of issues meant that by "extension" the same lean principles that were successful for Toyota could help other organizations outside of the non-Japanese enterprises. According to Womack, et al, Western manufacturing companies quickly incorporated five lean principles into their processes:

  • Identification of customer value - the customer, or patient, determines: what is value and what is waste? For example, a patient may think it a waste of time to be sitting in the waiting room for more than 15 minutes. (There are eight defined wastes: motion, unused talent, inventory, over production, transportation, defects, over processing, and unused creatity.)

  • Management of "value stream" - there are four value streams (demand management, care delivery, financial viability, new service development & quality improvement) to be managed in balance of each other.

  • Developing capabilities of flow production - a lean environment is a learning environment where front-line employees are innovators and creators of change.

  • Use of "pull" mechanisms to support flow of materials at constrained operations - the lean mindset looks to find opportunities to keep the patient moving through the system.

  • Pursuit of perfection through reducing to zero all forms of "waste" - this is a continuous quality improvement process that is accomplished through the knowledge and utilization of lean methodologies.


Lean Management for Healthcare

To answer the question: how do the Toyota Production System and healthcare connect? They connect because every industry, including healthcare, is producing something that needs to be managed as efficiently as possible. And that something can be made more efficient by the lean principles and methodologies of lean management that will create a new paradigm around a bottom-up problem solving mindset where waste is removed to create more patient value and practice harmony along with increased demand capacity. What are the people at your healthcare organization producing?

Works Cited

Teich, Sorin T. and Fady F. Faddoul. “Lean management-the journey from Toyota to healthcare” Rambam Maimonides medical journal vol. 4,2 e0007. 30 Apr. 2013, doi:10.5041/RMMJ.10107 Web address:

Womack, James P, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Roos. The Machine That Changed the World: Based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 5-Million Dollar 5-Year Study on the Future of the Automobile. New York: Rawson Associates, 1990. Print.