More Notes on the Business Week Article


Toyota: A Carmaker Wired to Win:

Dan Markovitz beat me to the punch, but I also wanted to comment on some things in the article:

The article says:

“Visit any Toyota plant in Japan, and it's easy to grin at the Orwellian factory banners emblazoned with exhortations such as ‘good thinking means good products.'”

I saw signs and slogans when I toured NUMMI a while back and I wondered about the influence that Deming had on Toyota. Deming railed against slogans and signs, since they often caused resentment among workers. Signs like these are weird and Orwellian and are bound to cause frustration. Maybe the Toyota signs are OK because:

  1. They focus on thinking (I don't recall a sign or a manager at GM, pre-Lean plant manager, telling employees to think more)
  2. If Toyota management can back up the signs with consistent action and practice day to day, then the signs won't be as frustrating, right?

The Toyota Production System, or the “”Thinking Production System” does appear to be pretty consistent in its goal of developing good thinking and good problem solving skills. In my discussion with David Meier yesterday, he kept emphasizing how TPS is about good problem solving and good thinking more so than the typical “Lean tools” we know and use.

I have a question about this:

“…to learn the Toyota way of double- and-triple checking parts and processes for trouble and immediately signaling to superiors when things go wrong.”

I understand that it's the Toyota Way to immediately signal (andon) when a problem occurs, but is it really the Toyota Way to double and triple inspect? I guess this is different than traditional “end of the line” inspection, where having multiple inspectors might be counterproductive (each person thinks the other will catch something and lets their guard down). Toyota inspection involves error proofing, checking your own work, and checking the work of the previous operation. I guess that adds up to two or three inspections in a way that's more constructive (and provides better process improvement feedback loops).

What are your thoughts?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. As for multiple inspections at Toyota, a trusted colleague who toured their plant in Japan told me that he saw workers in subsequent operations inspecting the work of the previous step. So, each line worker inspects his own work, and the worker in the next step inspects it again before doing his step. Can anyone comment on the accuracy of that? So, they’re inspecting, but its happening at each operation, and so it is caught early and fixed immediately.


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