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Art Smalley

Art Smalley: A Continuing Definition Problem

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Monday, January 3, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

This somewhat loaded question follows the previous one involving a commonly used but narrow and inaccurate depiction of lean manufacturing as simply “waste reduction”.  A similar problem occurs if you simply claim that Lean considers expenditure of resources other than for creation of value to be wasteful. As I attempted to explain previously somewhat tongue in cheek most depictions fall short of describing the Toyota Production System due to the broad area that the system covers. I’ll answer the question in two parts articulating why I think there is an embedded misconception in the question and then reflect upon what some of my training experiences were in Toyota.

For starters if you simply use any one narrow depiction of Toyota’s system and extrapolate from there you can easily wind up with mistaken interpretations or inaccurate conclusions.  The submitted question in its original or edited form unfortunately wind up in that category in my opinion with its comment about how do you develop people (or do other tasks for that matter) if they do not add value to the customer. There is often this sort of misunderstanding about the Toyota concept of waste embedded within the question and what that implies for the organization. I’ll see if I can help eliminate some of the confusion using some of Toyota’s old education materials.

Below here is an example of the original graphic that depicted waste categories in human operations from page 57 of the original 1973 Toyota Production System Handbook.

Translated into English

It should be noted that this concept was introduced on page 57 of the manual put together by the Education and Training Department.  In other words it was not necessarily considered page one or even chapter one type of material for depicting Toyota’s system. If you read carefully the graphic specifically applies to production employee centric operations involving motion and is not directed at other departments for example such as accounting or product development or other activities such as training.

The now widely recognized but often misconstrued graphic breaks things down into either A) value added activities for the operation, B) non value added work that is currently required to complete the job in its current state, or finally C) pure waste or “muda”. Later sections go on to then break down the pure waste into the famous seven types found in most operations i.e. 1) over-production, 2) inventory beyond what is needed, 3) rework or any type of correction, 4) excess motion, 5) waiting, 6) unnecessary processing, and 7) excess conveyance of materials.

Toyota developed the seven types of waste to expound up the four categories often used to describe production processes in industrial engineering – Process, Inventory, Conveyance, or Stagnation. I think the historical roots of this often get lost. That plus the Japanese terminology (muda, etc.) contribute to the definition problem…no one ever seems to misinterpret from plain old industrial engineering that all other functions or activities in the company have to be eliminated.

The section heading of the graphic is “How to proceed with activities in reducing manpower hours”. That heading is important. The concept of waste elimination within the production system chiefly applied to evaluating production operations for improvements in efficiency. Through standardized work and kaizen most operations can easily be improved. Of course the concept has some applicability beyond its original scope.

The problem develops as I mentioned up above when you take this one narrow depiction of Lean or TPS, and interpret it slightly differently and then extrapolate it to the whole organization.  Specifically for example I mean taking the concept of waste elimination in operations involving human motion and characterizing it to imply that any action that does not add value to the customer is waste and thus must be eliminated. This logic fallacy if followed to the extreme then results in the mistaken notion that pretty much everything in the company that the customer does not think adds value must be eliminated. This is simply a case of faulty comprehension resulting in a mistaken conclusion.

For the second part of my response I will just briefly talk about my own training experiences at Toyota. Like most organizations Toyota has basic training and development plans and semi annual reviews for all employees of the company. Toyota promotes the basic tenants of leadership, communication, problem solving, team work, and other areas through a lot of on the job training.

Toyota is famous however for its ability to develop employees who can problem solve and practice kaizen. There is a slight difference between the two concepts. The former deals with getting processes to expected standards i.e. solve gap from standard type of situations quickly and efficiently. The latter deals with improving standards to new levels of performance even when there is no problem per se. For example you might be at 100% of a productivity standard however you still have to improve next year by 8%. I detail some of these subtle differences in Toyota Kaizen Methods: Six Steps to Improvement for those interested.

I had plenty of other training in Toyota as well that was more technical. Since I was new to engine manufacturing in general I had in-house training in the basics of machine tool elements, tooling, hydraulic and electrical controls, and a host of other topics. Production employees and especially maintenance skilled trades personnel had extensive training programs as well to keep their skill level sharp. This was also viewed as an ingredient in terms of respecting people and making them valuable employees. For further reading on the entire training topic and talent development I’d suggest Jeff Liker’s book Toyota Talent: Developing People The Toyota Way.

In summary think it is far more useful to take the more general depiction of Toyota’s system as 1) Continuous Improvement and 2) Respect for People that has been in effect for the last decade.  In order to conduct continuous improvement in product, process, or people obviously departments outside of assembly operations involving motion are required.  Respect for people implies that they in reality are the value added part of the company that enables everything else to occur. Try doing anything in manufacturing or software development for that matter without people and see where you get. Training people so that they can safely, correctly, and conscientiously do their job as well as make improvements is a given in the Toyota management equation. Unfortunately that key concept is often missing in discussions and for example in the Wikipedia entry on Lean Manufacturing on the internet as of the writing of this post.

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