This past week included a celebration of the opening of Toyota’s new factory in San Antonio. But what do we see and learn from an examination of the Toyota plant in Kentucky, their first fully-owned plant in the U.S.? Fast Company’s Ted Fishman, an excellent writer and author of China, Inc.: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World and the earlier Fast Company piece about manufacturers saying “no” to Wal-Mart, takes a look.
His first conclusion is about the devotion to continuous improvement and never being satisfied:
“It’s the story of Toyota’s genius: an insatiable competitiveness that would seem un-American were it not for all the Americans making it happen. Toyota’s competitiveness is quiet, internal, self-critical. It is rooted in an institutional obsession with improvement that Toyota manages to instill in each one of its workers, a pervasive lack of complacency with whatever was accomplished yesterday.”
Self-critical, rather than blaming others. Driving improvement rather than making excuses. Relishing problems instead of covering them up to make things look good. That is the notion of the Toyota Production System that’s so very hard for other companies to copy. Notice he didn’t say that a tool, like kanban, is the key?
The continuous improvement mindset happens every day. Making change doesn’t require a hot new executive like a Mark Fields or a Carlos Ghosn.
Toyota doesn’t have corporate convulsions, and it never has. It restructures a little bit every work shift.
Toyota managers work as part of the system. When a new manager steps in, they work according to the standard work, rather than having to overhaul everything and to make their mark because they are new.
There are some great examples in the article of:
- SMED in the paint shop and the resulting waste elimination
- How Toyota’s job includes improving the process for improving the process
- Simplifying their material handling and parts selection at lineside (including a cheap and simple “Wal-Mart” fix)
- A manager personally changing from the old non-Toyota mindset of never admitting problems in meetings
- Relying on all employees instead of engineers or Six Sigma experts to drive improvements
That mindset of never being satisfied is articulated by an engineering manager:
“We’re all incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished,” says Buckner, a little puzzled that his attitude might be considered unusual. “But you don’t stop. You don’t stop. There’s no reason to be satisfied.”
Great, fantastic article. You should forward it (or this blog link) to everyone you know working with lean (or trying to understand it).
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