I'm accompanying the Shingo Institute study tour in Japan this week, and have had the incredible good fortune to spend time with Ritsuo Shingo, son of the late (and legendary) Shigeo Shingo. I asked him about the two pillars of lean (jidoka and just-in-time) in the famous Toyota house of quality, and he told me to forget about the house:

It doesn't matter what the pillars are, or what the roof is, or what blocks are in the foundation. You have to choose the structure that makes sense for your company. The concepts and elements are what's important, not where they go.

The lean community has, in recent years, shifted focus from tools to fundamental concepts and respect for people. To me, Mr. Shingo's advice is of the same piece. Slavish adherence to tools, language, and even graphics is pointless -- you have to translate the ideas to make them relevant for your idiosyncratic situation. As long as you have the right concepts, you can make whatever pillars you want.

For that matter, you don't even need a house. Make a submarine. Or a pop-tart. Or a light bulb. Just make sure you respect people and make it yours.

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