Copying Toyota’s Past Practices or Toyota’s Thinking?
With our Lean efforts, it’s always good to ask, are we:
- Copying Toyota’s past methods,
- Copying Toyota’s current methods OR
- Copying Toyota’s thought process and concepts
If you’re a regular Lean Blog reader, you’ll know that I’d argue for doing #3. The real power of Lean is in the mindset and the thinking processes. Part of the risk of #1 is that you’re chasing a moving target, since Toyota is always innovating (and kaizening). What’s documented formally somewhere is probably out of date and might not represent what Toyota is doing today (#2).
Here’s an example that illustrates this perfectly, I think. A major company (which will remain nameless) has a “Toyota Production System” initiative and they are moving away from their long-standing practice of “kitting” parts for assembly operators. They always kitted because of the parts variability and that doing line-side storage would be very complex. It just seemed to make sense for their business.
Part of their new TPS initiative is to move away from kitting (which they called “muda,” in their attempts to be like Toyota). OK, it’s waste, but is that waste worse than the tradeoffs that come with NOT kitting? The company was very proud of their attempts to be like Toyota. It wasn’t clear what the benefits were, to the customer, the employee, or the company, but they were proud. They also showed a video that demonstrated the Toyota types of waste, but it was pretty superficial and seemed somewhat offbase in a couple of ways. They were trying really hard to use the lingo, but the thinking didn’t seem to be there, or at least it wasn’t very advanced TPS type thinking.
Well, right AFTER that speaker, we had a speaker from Toyota Logistics Services in Oregon. They talked about how they basically kitted parts for workers who were customizing/finalizing Toyota products instead of doing line-side storage. Line-side storage would take 30% more space, the presenter said, so kitting was better. Line-side storage would bring the waste of added space, which would have led to more motion for parts delivery and probably more motion in picking parts.
Plus, you might remember this article about the new Toyota San Antonio plant and how they have moved to kitting parts.
So why this other company was so opposed to kitting is beyond me. It’s not “anti-TPS” to kit parts. You have to think through those tradeoffs for what makes sense to your own company. What minimizes overall total waste? What better supports your employees? Which is better for quality and flow? If the other company moved to line-side storage because they really had analyzed all alternatives, then OK. But, it sure seemed like they were blindly copying Toyota… and copying the Toyota of the past instead of the Toyota of today.
What do you think? Have you personally looked at this tradeoff between kitting and line-side storage?