What’s Going at Toyota? A Newly-Centralized TPS Group
Last week, I was in Japan for my third Lean healthcare study trip. More posts will follow with details from our stops along the way.
The cover photo for this post was one I took last Sunday at the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology in Nagoya. Of course, they have a section of the museum on the Toyota Production System. The museum has changed a lot from four years ago, with many additions, but some of the core TPS exhibits are the same (see a post from the 2014 trip).
Last Monday, I was able to visit one of the Toyota factories near Nagoya. I also had a chance to learn, last Wednesday, about how Toyota is directly helping some hospitals, which is a new initiative since my last visit in 2014. Again, more details to follow in future posts.
But, for now, here's an interesting Bloomberg article about Toyota never being satisfied, which includes improving the way they improve:
Many organizations, including those in healthcare, start off with Lean being a “program.” Hopefully, it eventually becomes “the way we think” and “the way we do things around here.”
I've heard of a few healthcare organizations in the past few weeks that completely eliminated their internal “Lean team” or whatever they called it. They laid off the internal consultants. Maybe the organization continues thinking Lean, managing Lean, and practicing Lean. Or, that's the end of Lean in their organization for now if it no longer has the endorsement of their senior team.
If there's any organization out there for which Lean is not a “program,” it's Toyota. Yet, they've still had “internal TPS consultants” or experts of various types. And the news from Bloomberg is that they centralized that group.
The automaker last month created a single group, staffed with 200 employees, to manage the Toyota Production System, centralizing a function that was spread out through the organization. Their task is to evaluate how core concepts like kaizen, or continuous improvement, can be applied to new businesses that include car sharing and consumer robots. The person in charge is 59-year-old Shigeki Tomoyama, a career Toyota executive who wields a tablet computer during events, making him look more like a Silicon Valley software engineer than a car guy.
Evaluating how to apply core Lean concepts to new areas of a health system would be one useful role of an internal Lean group. That central team can serve as coaches and trainers, maintainers of Lean standards — but they can't “implement Lean for you.” They can't “make you Lean.” But, they can help.
Unless you lay them off.
Back to Toyota:
“We want to systematically go over every step in our processes — from R&D to manufacturing, sales and servicing — in order to raise the combat effectiveness of our business as a whole,” Tomoyama said in an interview last month. “The backdrop to all this is President Toyoda's extremely strong sense of crisis.”
Many healthcare organizations are in a sense of financial crisis. They might even describe it as an “extremely strong sense of crisis.” They could “systematically go over every step” in their processes. Or, they can try to cut costs, which sometimes includes laying off their Lean team.
Again, from the article:
“If we want to make the most of Toyota's strength in creating new business models, it's going to require applying TPS,” Tomoyama said. “We want to show people inside and outside the company that TPS is still central to Toyota.”
That's good to hear. That's a nice change from the bad news I keep hearing about in healthcare, with organizations giving up on their Lean journeys — or laying off their central teams… which might be one and the same).
I also learned last week that Toyota has long had a group called the “TQM Promotion Office” (TQM being “Total Quality Management,” of course). That group still exists but is now called the “Process Quality Innovation Division.” I'm not sure if that has been folded into the team of 200, as the person presenting was somewhat recently retired from Toyota.