Toyota article from 1997 – the “Soul” of TPS that’s hard to copy
In doing some research for an upcoming presentation, I found this FORTUNE article from 1997. I was looking for a reference to Toyota letting its competitors (yes, Ford, GM, and Chrysler) tour its factories.
Why would they do this? Because what you can see with your eyes (tools and artifacts of Lean) is NOT the important stuff, the “secret sauce” if you will:
Two days a month, more than 50 automotive executives and engineers travel to a sprawling manufacturing complex in Georgetown, Ky., to learn how Toyota makes cars. The tours, which include an intensive question-and-answer session, last five hours and are booked months in advance. Although the visitors all work for competing automakers, Toyota charges them no money and places nothing off limits. Lately Ford and Chrysler technicians have been regular visitors to one of the two assembly lines, while General Motors personnel have demonstrated a particular interest in the powertrain operations.
Toyota's showing the opposition how it makes cars is a bit like Coke's giving Pepsi a peek at its secret syrup formula. The Toyota Production System on display at Georgetown applies not just to manufacturing but also to almost everything Toyota does, from product development to supplier relations and distribution. But Toyota officials don't mind. Deep down, they know that the TPS techniques that visitors see on their tours–the kanban cards, andon cords, and quality circles–represent the surface of TPS but not its soul. Toyota isn't worried about giving away any important secrets on a plant tour.
The same idea holds true for hospitals looking to apply TPS and Lean. The key is not copying tools, like 5S, but rather copying the general principles and management philosophies.
Even in 1997, Lean was “old hat” to many, yesterday's news. What the latest and greatest fad to jump on?? Will we reach that point with Lean in healthcare?
From the article:
Anyone want to read more about Japanese management techniques? I thought not. Last year's management fads are about as appetizing as yesterday's sushi, and ideas such as just-in-time inventory and continuous improvement feel shopworn, to say the least.
Continuous improvement is “shopworn?” In 1997? That's the problem — the small improvements, the discipline to practice kaizen each and every day… that's boring… the basic blocking and tackling of making sure checklists are used and truly followed each and every day… also boring? It shouldn't be. Or at least it shouldn't be ignored because it's “boring” to those who are only interested in the exotic cases or the next great technological leap.
I visited a hospital recently where they were excited about the latest innovation in the use of their expensive surgical robot. That's great innovation — but is that sort of innovation enough? The hospital leaders also talked about how they had “no standardized work for anything” generally around the hospital.
They were realizing that the basic blocking and tackling is important. Fancy technology can save lives, but so can processes, standardized work, and disciplined daily management. Maybe healthcare can focus in both areas – technological innovation AND process innovation?