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Technology & Lean - They're not incompatible

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3M Presents Lean Training at NACE 2011

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Why lean sometimes fails 2 Replies

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Value Stream Mapping

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Started by ronharvey. Last reply by Andrew C. Ikner May 24, 2011.


Hi there,

Jennifer Niemela, managing editor of FenderBender magazine here. We're working on our annual lean issue, and, in light of all the flack Toyota has gotten lately, I wanted to pose the question: Is lean all it's cracked up to be? Are there inherent flaws in the trying to become really efficient, really fast?

Welcome any commentary.


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Wow.... well that's a stretch. Good question however, it's on a lot of peoples minds. I'll have to respond from a couple different angles. I guess the first thing is the question itself. If you look at the Toyota production system, its origins and the time line, you'll realize that no part of it seeks "really efficient- really fast". In fact it's an incredibly respectful, careful and incremental process that has been slowly evolving, step by step, over the last 60 years. To say that anything happening today is a result of carelessness or urgency to rush to efficiency in short sighted. Toyota has had no intention of becoming the largest manufacturer in the world, their singular goal is simple.. improve each day. Their size is merely an outcome of their philosophy. First off, whats really happening today... Is it what the media is reporting? Realistically, the accusations of sudden acceleration are fuzzy at best. A couple points on the claims you hear on the news...

1 -Out of the 52 claims of death from this condition, the average driver age here is 62?
2- The recall was not for a sudden acceleration condition, rather a slow to return condition in the accelerator. big difference.. but great news story potential.
3- How is it physically possible that a car can accelerate on its own? ( all vehicles sighted here use a manual cable system to pull the throttle ) someones foot or something else HAS TO depress the pedal.
4- Wouldn't you see big skid marks from the non-driven set of wheels if the foot was firmly on the brake during this period?
5 - Isn't their biggest competition owned by the government (GM) ? Don't you think there's a reason for them to maybe discredit Toyota a bit? Toyota is a non-union organization ( that provides better pay, bene's and security than the UAW by the way ) Isn't our lead dog a Democrat with a strong union base?
6- Don't you remember Audi in the 80's and all that sudden acceleration talk back then? remember what they found to be the truth?

Toyota's not going to stand up and defend themselves here. It's a fight they can't win... so they just apologize and focus on improvement. Their customer's are showing the media, right now, how they really feel about Toyota. They are experiencing their biggest sales months in history right now .. for a reason, They make great cars & they understand and serve their customer. You'll see what happens... keep watching. The truth will eventually appear.

When it comes to the "Cracked up to be" piece,There is no other organization on the planet that has created such a level of sustainable performance over this long a term. They experienced their first quarterly loss in 75 year last year. Through out the crushing economic downturn in the auto market in 2009 they laid off exactly zero employees. In the 2000's they generate 114.6 BILLION dollars in profits although posting a 4.5 billion loss in 09. They have consistently been rated as the highest quality car manufactures in nearly every class. They have closed exactly zero plants. They have the highest paid, most educated, longest term and most satisfied workforce in automotive manufacturing period. Toyota's foundation is one of respect for people, both their customers and their employees. They create a special relationship with both, knowing that "were all in this together" and if we recognize that, great things can happen for all parties involved. It is frankly shameful what the media is doing to them today. This is probably the most caring organizations on the planet. What other organization can say that? Who wouldn't want to be EXACTLY like Toyota?

Lastly, to the inherent flaw part. Toyota does recognize that mistakes were made that opened the door to this frenzy. But they came from a recall ( not sudden acceleration ) that was a genuine quality problem,... this should never have happened. They did not attempt to grow very quickly as a goal, Their performance create a demand that they couldn't fill. They had a need to produce allot of product, more than they ever have, and their rapid growth was a mistake. But... their philosophy always start with the customer and meeting their needs ( in this case more cars ). They stretched themselves too thin here. They did not have enough "Kaizen" minds available to grow at this rate and this defect was the outcome. The inherent flaw that all of us in the Kaizen model must be aware of is that sometimes we just can't get there right now, and sometimes we just have to let better be good enough. What we must remember is that the thinking of Kaizen must come first and stay first, and that is, what Toyota has always fell back on, and once again they will. They will come out a much stronger organization and will ultimately make all of us who follow their lead stronger organizations.
Great response John! You covered all of the bases of TPS. TPS would be a difficult challenge for any company to replicate; and like most great programs, TPS has become reduced to a program that focuses on the removal of waste in most facility installations (Lean). At the heart of TPS is, in Six Sigma terminology, is the Voice of the Customer (VOC). If we listen to the VOC (External and Internal requirements) and our processes are refined to reflect those requirements, then over a period of time, we will become Lean businesses. All of us practitioners of Lean, PCE, Six Sigma, ISO and other QMS need to ensure that we keep up the great work that is being done to ensure our product meets or exceeds the needs of our customers. Thanks for posing such a thought provoking question Jennifer!
THANKS John and Mark. Nice to witness a thoughful debate on the subject. I think VOC is under-appreciated in the process of moving to "Lean Processes" ... and in general. As a "Lean/Six Sigma Greenbelt" I am quick to defend the practice but see the potential for managers to become involved in it for the sake of being involved. Then, it becomes a counter-productive exercise in futility.

Stopping occassionally and asking "Why are we doing this" is very benefitial. Making sure that ALL stakeholders are on board is a critical and oft-overlooked part of the equation. As a representantive of PMCLogic, I have to mention that proper Paint and Material control can make a huge difference when it comes to the analyses and implementation of lean practices.
Thank you for your supportive words Andrew! And as you mention, the leaning of the P&M can have significant impact on profitability and quality. Cheers.

I wrote an article a little over a year ago with a discussion on whether Lean was a destination or a journey. Lean is the application of practicality mixed with some common sense. You can implement Lean processes too quickly and get disilllusioned on the process. If a person takes the 5's of Lean and implements them as an improvement process one step at a time you will gain benefits. If you try to close your shop on a Friday afternoon and tell all your people that on Monday morning you will have a Lean shop it will not work. Lean implementation has to be a steady, methodical, process driven activity using Kaizen principles to be effective


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