Toyota has outperformed comp so well that it has attracted lots of attention. They are doing something differently.
The visible elements, tools, techniques of Toyota have been documented, but trying to copy these has not worked. We have tried to copy the wrong things. Reverse engineering what they do has failed. This is because critical aspects of Toyota are invisible. Toyota’s techniques will not work if there is no underlying logic behind it. Even those in Toyota don’t typically know what this underlying logic is, because it’s like water to a fish for them.
The solutions they develop, such as lean techniques, are not significant, the abstract method used to arrive at that approach is. Specific solutions, such as how parts are organised in the factory, are also not significant. It’s not just about production techniques. The key thing is that they don’t stop improving. The superior results come from CI routines and experimentation.
Trying to reverse engineer gives us an implementation orientation. We need a DIY problem-solving mode, not an implementation orientation. You only need to know with certainty: where we are, where we want to be and by what means we should maneuver the unclear territory between here and there. There is a lot of uncertainty, the inbetween stage is a grey zone. You do not know what the steps should be, you can’t at this point. People want certainty, but there often isn’t certainty. The way ahead is not set and clear and you shouldn’t try to make it so. True confidence and certainty do not come from preconceived implementation steps and solutions which may or may not work but by understanding the logic for how to proceed through unclear territory.
Small incremental steps. Improvement and adaptation come from the accumulation of small steps. Opportunities to leap forward are already being done by the competition, so that isn’t where the advantage lies. You don’t get ahead with short cuts like that. Cost and quality improvements come from lots of small steps. This makes it hard to imitate and therefore a strong competitive advantage. Periodic improvements are what static organisations do, you need to be continuously improving to get this advantage.
If each process in the company gets improved once a year – that’s ok – but this is not CI. CI means all processes are improved every day at every level of the company, even once target numbers have been met.
Any organised process naturally becomes chaotic over time. Every day small things go wrong. A process is either slipping back or moving forwards. Sustaining still equals slipping if the competition are progressing.
Most orgs do improve, but only periodically and with specialists.
Although many people think certain techniques have made Toyota successful, it is the utilization of the collective skill of the people in the organisation that gives them their advantage. Their ability to identify problems and find solutions. Many people, systematically, methodically making many small improvements every day. That’s the secret. This works partly because Toyota have stabilised processes which can be refined. (SIDE: how significant a factor is this? Outside manufacturing, there are limited processes which are stable enough for small improvements to accumulate)
Improvement must become systematic. Everyone at Toyota is taught to operate in this way and it is applied in every situation. Creating this culture is the task of management.
Toyota’s way is characterised by procedural sequences, thinking and behaviour patterns that when repeated over and over in daily work lead to the desired outcome. The tools they use are developed in this context and should not be thought of in isolation from this backdrop.
‘Kata’ is a word from martial arts, meaning ‘a standard form of movement, a way of doing things, a customary procedure’.
Although things are always changing, an organisation can have a standard way of dealing with that, which helps it to stay in synch – harmony – with changing circumstances.
Kata in this book are not limited to manufacturing. Kata are not principles. Principles don’t tell you how to do something. Kata do.
Improvement takes place at the process level. We need to use big picture thinking to do things like create a car or feed hungry people, but ultimately getting there will require process improvement.
The kata must be embedded in daily procedures. We can’t see what’s coming. The method is prescribed but the content can’t be. Since people are partial, the method must rely on facts rather than opinions where possible – it must be depersonalised.
In this book we will look into two of Toyota’s carter:
- The improvement carter
- The coaching carter
People often respond to kata by saying it will prevent creativity. The opposite is true, because there is no content, the only standardised thing is the approach.