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Secrets of the Toyota Production System

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Every lean practitioner is well versed in the classics: Lean, Six Sigma, but most notably: the Toyota Production System.  But why is everyone in the lean manufacturing world obsessed with Toyota? It might have something to do with how Toyota toppled GM to become the world’s #1 auto manufacturer, or how Toyota is the world’s most valuable car brand and car maker, with over 120 billion dollars ahead of all other competitors in terms of market cap value.  We dive into an overview of TPS, what you should not take away from Toyota, and most importantly, the secrets behind its success.

The Toyota Production System is centered around the simple goal of saving time and reducing cost to deliver greater value to the customer. TPS achieves this goal by eliminating overburden (muri), inconsistency (mura), and waste (muda) to improve production processes. There are two ways in which TPS achieves this goal: just-in-time delivery and “jidoka.” Just-in-time refers to producing only what is needed when it is necessary and reducing inventory. Jidoka loosely translates to ‘automation with a human touch,’ meaning when a machine detects any problems during manufacturing, it’ll automatically cease production without any human intervention or supervision.

Most companies make a fatal mistake of trying to compare themselves against Toyota. Toyota has decades of experience in various disciplines of lean and has a strong, mature lean program. Most organizations don’t have the right culture and aren’t ready to make that same transition. They also forget that Toyota differs from them in two significant ways: the benefit of guaranteed employment and thus allowing employees to learn from their mistakes. 

Even in a recession, Toyota rarely lets go of their employees. The time spent training a new employee is a waste in comparison to keeping employees furloughed. Most importantly, with solid job security, employees are willing to experiment and make mistakes. This helps create an open channel to try new ideas and processes. 

Try to avoid seeing Kanban as a star of the Toyota Production System. The real star of the Toyota System is enabled by Kanban. Kanban enables employees to operate the TPS by taking responsibility for managing their own jobs and, in a sense, helps everyone become a co-manager of the factory. The accountability and responsibility that comes with this pushes them to think creatively and efficiently. 

There is a powerful quality tool that comes from Kanban. To learn what it is, register for our webinar on ‘How Toyota Really Works (Secrets behind TPS)’ hosted by Errette Dunn, founder and CEO of Rever, a digitized kaizen platform for industrial companies. This lean expert has previously worked at Toyota, Airbus, and Wrike and is dedicated to helping teams across the world develop a culture of non-stop improvement.

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