Did the Reporter or GM Blow it on a Definition of TPS?


    Calif. to get dose of auto anguish | Detroit Free Press | Freep.com

    Here's a recent story about the demise of NUMMI, in which, the reporter wrote:

    “On the manufacturing side, GM did sustain much of what it learned from Toyota in its Global Manufacturing System, a standardized set of practices that literally choreograph workers' jobs to maximize efficiency, minimize physical movement and focus on using inventory only as needed.”

    That sounds like the old complaint of “turning workers into robots.” That doesn't sound like Lean to me. Did the reporter get it wrong or did GM tell the reporter a skewed view of Lean?

    The Toyota Production System is all about standardized work but (probably more importantly) it's also focused on engaging every worker in continuously improving their own work. Did GM not learn that from Toyota at NUMMI?
    The article sort of implies that geniuses like GM's Mark Hogan were able to figure it all out for those dumb workers, who needed to be choreographed. My old GM plant manager who learned at NUMMI didn't expect to come up with all of the answers. His job was to teach and to ask the right questions.
    TPS isn't just a new form of Taylorism where the employees are expected to unthinkingly execute the choreography of the educated class. The article gives a different, and wrong, impression.

    Kevin Meyer, at Evolving Excellence, coincidentally blogged about this yesterday, too.

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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. John Shook had a much better crisp definition of TPS in his most recent blog post:

      "The Toyota Production System starts and ends with people building quality into the process."

    2. Sad. Such a total miss by the Detroit Free Press. We can't expect reporters to know the ins and outs of everything they report on, but this is an excellent example of how the press can shape public opinion for the worse when they lack deeper understanding of what they are covering. Unfortunately in this information age, misinformation is accelerated more quickly and abundantly.

    3. I cannot really say who got it wrong. It all really depends on who within GM you are talking to about lean. In general I think GM has missed the boat in terms of worker engagement and has focused lean as totally an HPU measurement. I have been in GM plants that are filthy dirty and the Plant Manager will brag about how his HPU is the best in the Harbour report. Unfortunately people working for Harbour reinforce this thinking and give them positive feedback and tell them they are really lean becasue they are close to or better than Toyota in HPU. There is also an emphasis that lean is only related to the manufacturing floor. Hence the big disconnect between GM's Production System and their Purchasing Policies. The two do not support each other and the Purchasing policies drive more cost into the system while minimizing piece cost. I could go own but you get the picture that GM's Lean and Toyota's Lean are still far apart.


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