A "Lean" Article that Doesn’t Mention Real Lean


Turning Chrysler Into Toyota

It's disappointing when a publication with the wide audience of BusinessWeek misrepresents the Lean and Toyota Production System concepts. But hey, at least they really are a weekly publication, unlike our pals at IndustryWeek (sorry, haven't made that joke in a while).

The article talks about attempts by Chrysler, with the leadership of Jim Press, formerly of Toyota, to turn the business around. Unfortunately, the article equates “leaner” with getting smaller — fewer models, fewer plants, and fewer dealers.

The sub-headline reads:

By cutting models and dealerships, Chrysler aims to be a leaner, more productive, and more profitable business

It's all talk of “eliminating redundancies.” Sure, Toyota only has one minivan and doesn't compete with itself, unlike Chrysler who competes with their own Dodge. It might be very necessary for Chrysler to take those actions, but couldn't someone other than a Toyota person have figured that out? It's a similar struggle that GM has had, with divisions and dealers competing with each other (hence the death of the Oldsmobile brand).

It's too bad that the article didn't talk about attempts to further transform the Chrysler culture and workplace. They already had a pretty good Lean leader in Tom LaSorda, now they have another in Press. Is Chrysler going to do more to motivate their employees to participate in kaizen (continuous improvement)? Can Chrysler get more customer focused?

The article *does* talk about sacrificing short-term sales for the long-term sake of the company (again, something that GM has also struggled with). Do you think that's the influence of Press or, again, is that something that other leaders (such as Nardelli) could have come up with on their own? Principle #1 of “The Toyota Way” does focus on the long-term, even at the expense of the short-term.

Adopting the Toyota culture might not be enough to save a business like Chrysler… but it would also be interesting to hear if they're trying to make the organization operate more like Toyota. Who is writing about that? Anyone have any articles or links to share?

Chrysler can get as small as they want (or as small as the market requires)… but that's not going to turn them into Toyota.

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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. The WSJ had an article today on GM’s struggles with 8 different brands.


    “For example, GM has four mass-market midsize sedans. The Chevy Malibu is backed by a ubiquitous ad campaign and is a top-seller. Meanwhile, the Buick LaCrosse, Pontiac G6 and Saturn Aura have struggled to build the awareness and recognition needed to compete. Toyota Motor Corp. has one model to compete with those offerings — the Camry — and last year it alone outsold GM’s four models, 473,308 to 386,024.”


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