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Beyond Lean

What we’ve learned from Toyota

Much of what we can learn about lean comes from the Toyota Production System.3 Through over 50 years of learning and experimentation, Toyota has driven deep into the systematic elimination of waste and has created a system that learns and adapts better than anyone4 else. Its reputation for management and manufacturing excellence extends well beyond the automotive industry and truly is a benchmark for all operations and manufacturing companies. One fundamental difference between Toyota and others is the significant involvement of everyone in the improvement process. Many companies we see believe that there are people that do the work and those that solve problems or improve the work. Those that improve the work and processes are usually the least familiar with them, yet the highest paid. With this model of improvement, the decision of what problems to solve first is a major dilemma. Other companies, although only a few, bring everyone into the problem solving and improvement picture, but only on a very infrequent, large-scale event basis. This usually happens as some sort of task-force or cross-functional team. However, if we operate as a lean system, we can have everyone in the organization focused real-time on solving problems and driving waste out of the organization. In the end, we can enjoy both people success and business success greater than our competitors because we are solving more problems and engaging people at every level.

Two researchers, Steven Spears and H. Kent Bowen, have exposed a standardized way of thinking at Toyota that starts with four rules4 that have formed the foundation of all of its innovative tools and concepts. We have modified the language and presentation of these rules (but not their intent) in an attempt to make them more usable for people:

The Four Rules

  1. Structure every activity
  2. Clearly connect every customer/supplier
  3. Specify and simplify every flow
  4. Improve through experimentation at the lowest level possible towards the ideal state


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