Toyota Applies Kaizen to Thanksgiving Charity Efforts


Here's a nice story about the Toyota Supplier Support Center helping a charitable organization with their holiday operations:

“Toyota applies production know-how to roll out holiday help for needy.”

That link is broken, but this blog post talks about the effort.

It just goes to show how there are processes in just about any type of organization that can be improved with Lean/TPS principles and the involvement of the people who do the work.

Toyota experts helped St. Vincent de Paul improve their food basket assembly:

“From there, it was a matter of getting the SVDP volunteers to share their knowledge of the operation with us and together we created a smooth, efficient and steady flow of goods that would allow us to complete a basket every 15 seconds. That means baskets filled accurately with just the right amount of everything and fast enough to reduce wait time for the customers,” Thornberry said.  Instead of putting together wheels, seats and an engine to assemble a car, the volunteers lined up canned goods, produce and frozen turkeys in just the right order and just the right amount to deliver a Thanksgiving food basket that will be enjoyed by a family in need.

It's a nice articulation of working together – it wasn't the TSSC people who “fixed” SVDP, it required the input of all parties, those who know the work and those with an outside perspective. This is the same approach that works in manufacturing, healthcare, and other settings.

Again, from the article:

Hideshi Yokoi, president of the Toyota Production System Support Center, pointed out that helping St. Vincent de Paul also helped the folks from Toyota. “It gives our team members experiences applying the Toyota Production System outside of the manufacturing environment and allows us to help improve our community,” he said. “Giving back in the community is also part of the Toyota Way.”

It's nice of Toyota to share their expertise, but as you see it also benefits Toyota and their people.

I can think back, personally, to a time a volunteered with a group of friends at a food bank — the processes and operations were so poorly organized, it was a very frustrating experience. And, unfortunately, as a volunteer, I was in a position to just “do as I was told” and was only allowed to work the way we had been shown. That was the last time I volunteered there.

It's not surprising that some community Lean clubs and groups volunteer their time to get involved with operations-intensive charities like food banks or Goodwill.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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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. Glad you shared this. I’ve had similar experiences volunteering – both functional and dysfunctional. But what this post speaks even more clearly to me about is that it seems anywhere a process exists lean can and often does apply. The hardest part is introducing it in situations where lean thinking is unknown, but the upside of this is the opportunity to sharpen those facilitation skills.

  2. I worked for Toyota (Lexus) at there US HQ in 2000 and can tell you that they were big into charitable efforts back then. They give extra effort to be a A+ organization and always try to become better – even if the cost is short term profit!

    • Yes, that effort is appreciated. I also appreciated how Toyota allowed production workers from San Antonio to do community work on company time during periods of no production after the 2008 financial meltdown… that commitment to community and to developing people seems very strong.


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