Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production system:
The Toyota Production system has long been considered as the source of Toyota’s outstanding performance as a manufacturer. The distinctive practices of the system especially Kanban and quality circles have been widely used elsewhere. Companies that have tried to adopt the Toyota Production System can be found in diverse fields. However, what is surprising is that only a few manufacturers have succeeded in imitating Toyota successfully even though Toyota has been extraordinarily open about its practices. Thousands of executives have visited Toyota plants in Japan and in the United States. Frustrated by their inability to replicate Toyota’s performance, many executives assume that the secret of Toyota’s success must lie in its cultural roots. But that is just not the case. Other Japanese companies such as Nissan and Honda, have fallen short Toyota’s standards and Toyota has successfully implemented its production system all over the world. So why has it been so difficult to decode Toyota’s Production System? The answer is that the observers confuse the tools and practices they see on their plant visits with the system itself. Activities, connections and production flows in Toyota’s factory are rigidly scripted and yet at the same time Toyota’s operations are enormously flexible and adaptable. Activities and processes are constantly being challenged and pushed to higher level of performance, enabling the company to continually innovate and improve. To understand Toyota’s success one has to understand that the rigid specifications is the very thing that makes the flexibility and creativity possible. For outsiders the key is to understand that Toyota’s Production System creates a community of scientists. Whenever Toyota defines a specification, it is establishing sets of hypotheses that can be tested. In other words, it is following the scientific method. To make any changes, Toyota uses a rigorous problem solving process that requires a detailed assessment of the current state of affairs and a plan for improvement that is in effect, an experiment test of the proposed changes. The fact that the scientific method is so ingrained at Toyota explains why the high degree of specifications and structure at the company does not promote command and control environment one might expect. While watching people doing their jobs and helping to design production processes one can notice that the system actually stimulates workers and managers to engage in the kind of the experimentation that would be recognized at a later date as the cornerstone of the learning organization. That is what differentiates Toyota from all other companies. The Toyota Production System and the scientific method, which is the backbone of Toyota, were not imposed on Toyota. In fact they were not even chosen consciously. The system grew naturally out of working of the company over five decades. As a result it has never been written down, and Toyota’s workers are not able to articulate it. That is why it is so hard for the outsiders to grasp. In this article we are going to discuss how Toyota’s system works. We are going to discuss four principles--- three rules of design which will tell us how Toyota sets up all its operations as experiments and one rule of improvement, which describes how Toyota teaches the scientific method to workers at every level of the organization. It is these rules---- and not the specific practices and the tools that people observe during their plant visits -----form the essence of the Toyota’s system. That is why the rules are the DNA of the Toyota’s Production System. Rule 1: How people work?
Toyota’s managers recognize that the success is in the details. That is why they ensure that all work is highly specified as to content, sequence, timing and outcome. For example when a car’s seat is being installed, the bolts are always tightened in the same order, the time it takes to tighten each...
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