Up to this point I have resisted weighing in on the Toyota quality story largely because:
- I don’t have anymore insight than anyone else.
- The signal-to-noise ratio in the story seems really low, and I didn’t feel I would contribute much.
But there is another story in the back channels of the “lean” community.
Many of us (myself included) have been holding up Toyota as an example of “doing it right,” with good reason.
Toyota, of course, has never publicly claimed to be an icon of perfection, but we have held it up as one.
Now, when their imperfections are exposed, I am seeing a backlash of sorts, questioning whether the Toyota Production System is flawed somehow. This raises some really interesting questions cutting across the principles themselves; the psychology of various groups of practitioners; and of course Toyota’s practice of “The Toyota Production System.”
Are the principles themselves flawed?
We have a whole industry built on extolling the perfection of Toyota. Now we are seeing a bit of a boomerang effect. Say it ain’t so, but believe it or not, there is a population of people out there who are pretty sick of hearing “Toyota this..” and “Toyota that…” and having themselves held up to Toyota and being told they are coming up short.
Shame on us, the lean manufacturing community, for setting that situation up, but now we have to defend the principles on merit and establish credibility for ourselves rather than using Toyota as a crutch. Hopefully the adversity will sort out some of the practitioners who are still advocating rote copy of the tools and artifacts.
So, no, the principles are not flawed, not unless you didn’t believe in scientific thinking to begin with. It is a fallacy to confuse failure to adhere to the principles with failure of the principles themselves. The truth has always been that the Toyota Production System defines an ideal, and Toyota’s practice, like everyone else’s, comes up short sometimes.
So what will happen?
I can imagine that consultants the world over are figuring out how to re-brand their offerings to show how they “close the gaps” in the Toyota Production System to go “beyond lean.”
Meanwhile, though, those who are grounded are going to have to get more grounded. Stay focused on the process, the objectives, what is happening right in front of you. Ask the same questions. Tighten up on your teaching skills because the concepts are going to have to make sense in the here and now. No longer will they be blindly accepted because “That is how Toyota does it.”