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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Getting a Better Understanding of How Toyota Operates

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Saturday, April 17, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Now there’s a revealing conundrum:

  1. Mike Micklewright asks, “Why Is Quality So Rarely Central in Lean?” He sees experts using Lean to increase efficiency and productivity, and reduce costs, without connection to quality.
  2. The word Lean is a name that in the late 1980’s we gave to what we observed at Toyota.
  3. Jeff Liker reminds us that over the last 50 years Toyota has virtually defined quality in the auto industry, and that quality is evident everywhere in the company.

I think the answer to this puzzle is simple in hindsight:  We have been focusing on the what, the visible stuff that changes from situation to situation, but not on the how. We confused the visible content of what we observed Toyota working on in its factories — a lot of minimizing waste / maximizing productivity — with the less visible method, or kata, Toyota uses to pursue objectives. Any objective.

We named what we saw Lean, which suggests that the content is always about minimizing or maximizing. (That minimizing/maximizing idea, by the way, so readily fits into our existing thinking in business that it gave leaders no reason to change their underlying thinking.)

As far as I can tell from my research of the last years, Toyota’s successes actually result from its way of working toward any challenging objective. Toyota’s kata is about working through obstacles and adapting as you strive to move from where you are to where you want to be next. That can involve minimizing, optimizing, or any endeavor, including (especially if you are customer focused) quality.

A pivotal issue that is being evinced by further study of Toyota is not so much what an organization does, but how an organization does it.

You can read more about it here:

Toyota Kata Homepage

Mike

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