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The Lean Journey

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The Toyota Production System (TPS) was developed by Toyota during the decades after the Second World War. The Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda and his son Kiichiro Toyoda, together with Architect Taiichi Ohno, were the pioneers of this system that still today is one of the most famous and copied model.

Thanks to many books and studies done mainly by US academics, the TPS become popular in the industrial world and assumed many different names, which the most famous one is “Lean Production”.


Even if many companies started the lean transformation, most of them failed or they applied lean partially. The reason behind this failure is that the TPS is not only a set of tools, but it implies a deep cultural change which involves all the associates starting from management. The bricks who inspire and lead managers are the five company values of the Toyota Way: Challenge, Teamwork, Kaizen, Respect and Genchi Genbutsu. The foundations are People Engagement and Hoshin Kanri, a Toyota’s method to deploy the company long term target to all levels and split them into activities and plans. TPS tools and vision are sustained by values and foundation.

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The role of a leader in the lean implementation it’s crucial and leading by example is one of the keys. Leaders should always be aware that their colleagues are watching what they do and not only what they say. Consistency and steadily are the way to develop a lean transformation with a great result in terms of performance that involves a cultural change of the company.

Do more with less: Kaizen Mentality

As often happen in the human history, the lack of resources is the most powerful fuel to motivate people to achieve more with less. After the World War II, the dream of Toyota to become a world automotive leader despite the poor financial resources of the company and of Japan, force the people to find a different way to organize the production in order to maximize the few available industrial resources. The mentality to achieve more with less is an important value, still strong today in the Toyota culture, in order to push and support the people to strive a continuous improvement effort by smooth step forwards. This mentality is the meaning of the Japanese word “kaizen”.

To effectively encourage associate’s engagement and the mindset of continuous improvement, Toyota offers tangible and visible appreciation for every Kaizen idea through recognition that is not financial, but employees are encouraged to share ideas with their leader. Weekly meetings are arranged close to the shop floor to discuss and evaluate each idea. Transparent feedback is offered about whether the idea will be taken further or why it’s not possible, and a blackboard, located in the shop floor area, visualize all the idea and the related implementation plan. Toyota Japan HQ organizes yearly a worldwide exhibition dedicated to the best kaizen idea where associates, from Toyota world’s plants, explain the own improvement to the top managers.  Visibility and recognition are one of the ways to sustain and promote the lean culture.

Lean 4.0

The 4th industrial revolution, led by digitalization and data, forces the companies to invest in this direction in order to maintain competitiveness.

But what is the role of TPS in the industry 4.0 era? Has it become obsolete?

The answer of these questions are top discussions in Toyota Material Handling, which this industrial revolution has an important impact not only in the factories, but as well in the product.

The transformation arranged with the Toyota Production System generates an important problem solving and analyses culture. With daily management every associate has a clear statement of standard condition, they record any deviation compare the target and they break down the main weak point responsible of the deviation. This mentality, driven by customer value added, forces people to measure and analyze any activities and have in control data and process. The deep know how on process and data are the main driver to set the roadmap for the digitalization avoiding the risk to make huge investment with poor return. More data doesn’t mean more information, we need the right data to make a decision. With digitalization, we tend to manage the company by data and computer increasing the risk that what we are monitoring is not representative of the real situation in our plants.   

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The steps and the topics learned during the lean journey support the digitalization. Processes know how, people engagement and value-added culture acquired by associates during the lean transformation are the key driver to set a valuable digital strategy, focused on the real company needs and values.