Ohno Taiichi, Creator of the Toyota Production System


In the evolution of business methodologies, few stories are as compelling as the transformation of Toyota's Lean Manufacturing principles into the backbone of today's startup success.

Toyota’s manufacturing mastery, with its relentless focus on efficiency, quality, and customer value, has not only revolutionised the automotive industry but also laid a foundational framework for the entrepreneurial world. The adaptation of these principles into the Lean Startup methodology underscores a profound legacy of innovation and strategic foresight.

In the article below, written by the team at Déjà Partners, we explore the Seven Pillars of Lean Transformation, which serve as the bridge between Toyota’s production excellence and the agile dynamics of modern startups. Each pillar represents a core principle that is foundational in both Lean Manufacturing and Lean Startup methodologies, highlighting the key components that have facilitated the transition and adaptation of lean principles from manufacturing to today’s startup ecosystem.

Why is this Important?

The Lean Startup essentially takes these principles and adapts them for a different context. Instead of focusing on physical manufacturing, it applies the concepts to the iterative process of developing a business and its products, with a strong emphasis on learning and adapting quickly based on customer feedback. This adaptation allows startups to minimise the risk of building products or services that no one wants and to find a sustainable business model more efficiently and with less capital.

The Seven Pillars

#1 Elimination of Waste 

Lean Manufacturing emphasises the elimination of waste (Muda) in all forms. This includes wasted time, materials, and effort, which can detract from value creation. The Lean Startup similarly emphasises the elimination of waste, but the primary focus is on eliminating wasteful practices in product development and business operations, like spending time on features or products that customers do not want.

Eric Ries, The Lean Startup

#2 Value Creation 

Both methodologies stress the importance of understanding and delivering value to the customer. For Lean Manufacturing, this means creating products efficiently and with high quality. For the Lean Startup, this means developing products that customers actually want and are willing to pay for.

#3 Iterative Cycles 

For Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System (TPS), Lean Manufacturing relies on continuous improvement (Kaizen) through iterative cycles of change and feedback on the shop floor. The Lean Startup applies this concept to business strategy and product development through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop.


#4 Pull Systems 

In Lean Manufacturing, pull systems (like Kanban) ensure that production is based on actual demand, minimising inventory and reducing cycle times. The Lean Startup uses a similar concept in developing products based on actual customer demand and feedback, rather than assumptions or forecasts.

Kanban Lists

#5 Empowerment of Workers

Lean Manufacturing empowers workers to identify problems and implement solutions (Andon). The Lean Startup empowers cross-functional teams to experiment, learn from real-world experiments, and pivot as necessary, based on empirical evidence.

#6 Adaptation and Flexibility

Both systems require adaptation and flexibility. Toyota’s approach is flexible to changes in production needs, and the Lean Startup is flexible to changes in the market and customer preferences.

Actionable Metrics

#7 Use of Metrics 

Lean Manufacturing uses metrics to evaluate process efficiency and quality. The Lean Startup also uses metrics, focusing on actionable metrics (as opposed to vanity metrics), that can lead to informed business decisions and validated learning.


The Seven Pillars of Lean Transformation are not just theoretical concepts; they are the lifeblood of a movement that has redefined the startup landscape.

Toyota’s legacy, through the lens of the Lean Startup methodology, serves as a powerful reminder that the principles of quality, efficiency, and customer focus are universal. They provide a robust framework that can guide startup businesses across sectors to achieve sustainable growth and success.

In this sense, Toyota’s manufacturing mastery has indeed paved the way for startup success, demonstrating that the core of innovation lies in the relentless pursuit of improvement and the ability to adapt to the ever-changing demands of the market, ensuring that businesses remain resilient, responsive, and perpetually aligned with the evolving needs of their customers.

Thanks for reading.

How We Help Entrepreneurs

Our mission at Déjà Partners is to empower and support the best entrepreneurs and early stage companies. We understand the challenges and risks involved in starting a new business from scratch and are dedicated to providing mentorship, guidance, and support to help you succeed. Our services are offered on a pro bono basis, meaning there’s no upfront financial cost to you. Our philosophy of alignment of interests mandates that our ultimate compensation is tied to the success of the startup company through an allocation of stock options.

We begin by working closely with you to prepare for a successful fundraising with institutional investors or debt providers. Drawing on our wealth of experience in building businesses, we provide valuable insights and feedback to help you refine your business plan and pitch. With our guidance, you’ll be well-positioned to attract the right investors and secure the funding you need to bring your vision to life.

But our support doesn’t end there. We’re committed to helping you navigate the challenges of scaling your business to create value and achieve your goals over the long-term. As seasoned entrepreneurs ourselves, we understand the highs and lows of building a business and can provide valuable advice and support along the way. Our goal is to help you mitigate against the prospect of failure so that you can approach your business journey with growing confidence and optimism.

At Déjà Partners, we’re passionate about helping entrepreneurs turn their visions into successful businesses. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you achieve your goals.