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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: We must think of the whole enterprise as a continually evolving system

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, November 26, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a comment
If you look at the comments of several of my colleagues about bringing lean to sales they point out how important this is–to really connect the value streams of design-build-sell–and Wiremold was brought up as a company that in its heyday had made a lot of progress at the lean enterprise level.  Personally if companies have an immature lean system in manufacturing I suggest they start there.  It is visible, involves physical changes, and the typical tool set of lean applies in a clear way.  Wiremold started in manufacturing.  Companies that try to change everything in the enterprise at once usually fail.
If we look at the sales-marketing process there are a number of things that set Toyota apart from “non-lean” companies (in no particular order)
1.  Order fulfillment–Toyota has a lean process for getting cars overseas to port in the U.S. and getting those cars to dealerships.
2.  Order taking from dealers–As was discussed by Orrie at Wiremold, there is a complete symbiotic relationship between the parts of Toyota Motor Sales that works with dealers to allocate vehicles and with production control that schedules the assembly plants.  Dealers want what they want when they want it, including erratic patterns of selling a certain number of vehicles by the end of a period so they can order the most vehicles possible in the next period.  Manufacturing wants a leveled schedule which is the foundation of TPS (heijunka).  There are daily negotiations between sales and production control and that cooperation across boundaries of the company is essential to optimizing the whole.
3.  Service parts–Toyota uses TPS in its service parts warehouses which are connected to a state of the art computer system so the exact status of service parts are visible to all dealers.
4.  Customer care call center–This is housed in the same building as Toyota Motor Sales in Torrance California and the call centers function like the work groups in Toyota plants to the extend of even holding weekly quality circle meetings and having a team leader and group leader structure as well as visual metrics with targets for improvement.
5.  Finance and Tax Services–There are many processes like these that are transactional and somewhat repetitive and the approaches to lean services apply very well.
6.  Product development and launch–Sales and marketing must work hand in glove with product development in setting the specifications for the concept stage of a new vehicle through to launching the vehicle.  While engineering in the R&D center is mostly focused on getting the vehicle production ready, they are also closely collaborating with Toyota Motor Sales in all stages.  In fact engineering in R&D is writing out all the different vehicle configurations needed by sales for pricing and advertising and training the dealers.  Toyota Motor Sales works closely with the chief engineer in the styling and features of the car, they have to launch the vehicles at all the dealerships including training, they must train customer service representatives in the call center, they must produce owner manuals, and they must prepare the advertising campaign.
Making all of these areas work at a very high level and continuous improvement along with respect for people are critical.  Now within Toyota they will tell you that the cultures in manufacturing-engineering compared to Toyota Motor Sales in the U.S. are very different.  In fact applying lean concepts to the sales and marketing and other transactional processes has been fairly recent in Toyota Motor Sales.  This is discussed in Toyota Culture.  On the other hand the service parts centers are more like manufacturing and operate at a high level of TPS.  They also breed leaders deeply knowledgeable in TPS who have been used as coaches for other parts of Toyota Motor Sales.  In the end we must think of the whole enterprise as a continually evolving system and “getting lean” is an evolutionary process that must focus on different areas for improvement at different times.
Jeffrey Liker

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