Starting to Read "Toyota Culture"


I've read the first chapter of Toyota Culture: The Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way. I'm obviously not going to get through the whole thing before my podcast interview with Jeff Liker tomorrow. If you have questions for the podcast, let me know today.

The first chapter provides a good overview and framework around the general question of “so what is a company or organizational culture?” Liker and his co-authors cover some of the aspects of what is “Toyota Culture” versus “Japanese Culture” and the influences that Japan has had on Toyota and how the culture has changed or adapted in the West.

The authors are pretty blunt in their assessment that many companies are implementing Lean the wrong way — with failure modes including:

  • Viewing Lean as a “toolkit”
  • Wanting central control, powerpoint reviews, and obsessive cost justification
  • Wanting to do Lean everywhere all at once instead of starting with a model line area

There's also a great story from co-author Hoseus from his time working a line at Toyota in Japan. He created a small scratch inside a wheelwell and thought, “Maybe I could get away with that… should I pull the andon cord or not?” He pulled the cord, alerting the team leader of the problem. He not only got coaching on how to avoid that problem again (instead of getting yelled at), but the team members APPLAUDED him for admitting to a mistake. That sort of behavior is pretty rare among companies that are implementing the Lean tools without really focusing on their culture and behaviors.

There's also some pretty blunt talk about the differences between Six Sigma and Lean. The authors say that the Six Sigma view of “Y = f (X)” is an overly simplistic view of work as consisting of a bunch of independent variables, instead of viewing a workplace as a complex system. I'm sorry to stoke the sometimes contentious debate about Six Sigma and Lean, but I'm curious to see if the authors talk about this more.

There's a lot of great knowledge in this book for just $20.

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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.



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