This is a pretty good overview, “state of Toyota” article. The article discusses how TPS is about more than just reducing waste and cutting costs. “Everybody” now does just-in-time delivery, but there’s obviously more to TPS than that — the mindset is much less easy to copy.
This quote relates kaizen to product development. They took the vans to the “gemba” (or actual place), in this case the highways of America to figure out the right minivan design.
“So when it came time to redesign the Sienna, Yuji Yokoya, chief engineer for the vehicle, drove 80,000 kilometres around North America in various types of minivans, trying to figure out what worked. On a bridge over the Mississippi River, for example, he learned the new vehicle needed more stability to deal with crosswinds.
The result of his journey was the larger, more powerful and cupholder-laden Sienna that more than holds its own against the competition. That experience demonstrates the company’s ability to learn.”
You could argue that a true thinking and learning company wouldn’t take four tries to get a minivan right, but how would cars and trucks be better across the board if all companies had a chief engineer willing to do research like that?
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