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Review – The Toyota Way Fieldbook

The Lean Library

Here is a long overdue review of the book, The Toyota Way Fieldbook. I wrote the review following the format of The Lean Library and have also gotten the review published over there.

The Fieldbook is an outstanding book, I recommend it highly.

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Name of the Book: The Toyota Way Fieldbook

Authors: Jeffrey K. Liker and David Meier

Publication Date: 2006

Book description: what’s the key message?

While Jeffrey Liker’s book The Toyota Way was an examination of the 14 Principles of the Toyota Way, it was not an explicit “how to” guide at a tactical level. This follow up book is intended as the more practical guide to Becoming Lean (to borrow the title of an earlier book written by Liker). The Fieldbook is organized in the framework of Toyota’s 4 P’s:

– Philosophy
– Process
– People and Partners
– Problem Solving

The book starts first with “philosophy,” not lean tools. It develops an important relationship between the two. The book, in its entirety, emphasizes that copying Toyota tools, regardless of how thoroughly, is not enough to become lean. Early chapters talk about defining your company’s purpose and philosophy, providing many examples of Toyota’s purpose and unique view of their place in society and the world. From there, the Fieldbook guides you through a reasonable progression of lean topics and methods to work with in your own company. While there is no simple linear progression through a lean transformation, the authors address the challenge well in structuring the flow of the book. Typical “early” stages of lean learning and implementation are covered first, including learning how to identify waste, establishing process stability, and developing flow. The book spends more time on organizational culture and management methods, as opposed to tools. The book remains practical and actionable, rather than theoretical.

A strong central portion of the book focuses on developing leaders, how to lead in a lean environment, and how to develop “exceptional” employees. One particular highlight are the detailed examples, including a breakdown of the roles of Group Leaders, Team Leaders, and Team Members in a lean setting, not covered in most lean books.

The book recognizes that companies are not Toyota as a starting point. Rather, they are trying to become a Toyota-like lean organization. There is a chapter on respecting suppliers and managing them as Toyota does. The last sections of the book cover Toyota problem solving and implementation strategies, including a discussion of the pros and cons of different common lean transformation or implementation approaches, including kaizen events and the development of a “Company Production System.”

How does it contribute to the lean knowledge base?

This book is a unique compilation of Toyota Production System methods, concepts, and philosophies. There are many adaptable examples of Toyota tools and methods, including Standard Work Combination tables, Cross Training matrices, 5 Why’s problem solving analysis, and A3 reports. There are many new case study examples in the book that will be helpful, even to an experienced lean practitioner.

The book is also unique in that it is co-authored by a former Toyota team leader, an American, as opposed to reading an older book by Toyota executive Taiichi Ohno or consultant Shigeo Shingo.

What are the highlights? What works?

The book is very readable and easy to understand. Its layout and format borrows many of the good practices of the “For Dummies” series. You might consider this to be a “Toyota Production System For Dummies” book. There are many callouts with icons indicating “Tips” and “Traps” to look out for in your own lean implementation, to help avoid common lean implementation mistakes or failure modes.

This is very helpful, as the authors realize that it can be difficult work implementing lean. They never talk down to you or make you feel bad that you might struggle with the Toyota Way in your own environment, because you are not Toyota.

Furthermore, co-author David Meier was a group leader at Toyota. Many perspectives on Toyota come from the process or industrial engineering perspective, but the perspective of front-line supervisor is of significant value and often overlooked.

What are the weaknesses? What’s missing?

While this is clearly a field book in its application focus, it is less clear how it is connected to companion book, The Toyota Way. The 14 principles of that book are mentioned briefly but are not integrated into this book. The Fieldbook has value as a standalone volume, but those looking for a specific companion to The Toyota Way will be disappointed.

You might be surprised to not find much information about Kanban, a process made famous by Toyota. Although the concept of pull is covered, there is no chapter on Kanban or examples of calculations or Kanban cards. Thankfully, there are many references and other books available on this topic.

How should I read this to get the most out of it?

The book can be read straight through. For an experienced lean practitioner, it can easily be used as a reference book. Topics are well organized and tools are easy to find with a well-documented index. For example, if you want an example of an A3 Report, you will find many pages of explanation about the tool and how to use you. You will also find fully completed examples of the tool. This is extremely helpful and adds to the book’s value as a practical reference.

Click here to buy The Toyota Way Fieldbook through Amazon.com


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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2 Comments on "Review – The Toyota Way Fieldbook"

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  1. Anonymous says:

    We’re using The Toyota Way Fieldbook as our self-study text to launch our Lean effort. I like it better than The Toyota Way as there are more practical examples of actions to take.

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