The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement: Linking Strategy and Operational Excellence to Achieve Superior Performance Hardcover – 16 Jun 2011
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About the Author
Jeffrey K. Liker, author of the bestselling The Toyota Way, is professor of industrial and operations engineering at the University of Michigan. His most recent book, Toyota Under Fire, chronicles Toyota’s response to the recession and recall crisis.
James K. Franz has more than 24 years of manufacturing experience and learned “lean” as a Toyota production engineer in the United States and Japan. He has worked for and consulted with various organizations, including Ford, Bosch, the U.S. Air Force, Exxon Mobil, AMCOR, Hertz, and Applied Materials. He also teaches for the University of Michigan’s Center for Professional Development’s Lean Certification course.
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The book starts with a short synopsis on the Toyota safety recall issue that has plagued the company in the last couple of years. This is not particularly relevant to the theme of the book, but will save readers the cost of Liker's other book on the subject!. We then move to a fairly long review of the current state of thinking on sustaining continuous improvement. There is nothing particularly new here. Rather it is a summary of current thinking, including that from Mike Rother's excellent "Toyota Kata". Personally I found the writing style of this section rather heavy going. The material presented here is all stuff I've seen before, and Mike Rother's book is much better reading.
It is the case studies that really make the book worthwhile. Rather than seeking to cover themselves in glory the contributors bravely provided detailed "warts and all" reflections on lean implementations they have worked on. Here we read about the frustrations and setbacks, as well as the high points, of a very broad range of lean implementations. The case studies are refreshingly candid, with resistance to change and barriers to progress a common theme. What is it about management and business structures in the West that make it so difficult for us to adapt to modern realities?
The case studies are well written and very readable, and they cover a large range of situations. There are lessons here for all types of organisation. The case-study set in a vast iron ore mine is fascinating and enlightening. The PDCA approach, coupled with good visual management truly can work anywhere!. There are seven case studies, all with some interesting learning points.
The book doesn't go in for "conclusions" but rather "reflections". Nevertheless, these are surprising. While the authors admit they have spent their careers extolling the virtues of the "pure" lean philosophy of the Toyota Way, they actually argue that the case-study evidence suggests that such philosophical approaches to lean implementation are no more successful that the mechanistic "lean by numbers" approach of many organisations.
Wow! The "tick-list lean" approach derided by many lean writers and thought leaders (described as "fake lean" or "lean in name only") is no less effective than the philosophical "think through your problems" approach. This is a shattering judgement. It is heartening for those confined in organisations taking a highly defined approach to lean - there is hope for you. But it is also rather sad. It seems that Western organisations just can't "do" a culture of working together for improvement.
Somehow I feel this book brings us to a crossroads. It is time to stop harping on about "real lean" and "fake lean" - both approaches can work well, or fail miserably. It is the culture of our organisations (and particularly management attitudes) that matters; and the structure, and politics of most large Western simply isn't conducive to continuous improvement. The culture that encourages individual development and self-promotion equally discourages team development and "no blame" analysis of problems for the common good.
The book closes with a series of "reflections" which (to me) feel somewhat downbeat - true continuous improvement will take years (perhaps decades) to embed in an organisation; most organisations will fail; but if you work hard at it you may make some progress!
To be honest, if you want a book about establishing a continuous improvement culture then "Toyota Kata" by Mike Rother is a better read and more practically orientated. Nevertheless the honest and straightforward presentation of the case studies in this book are interesting and provide plenty of food for thought on lean implementation, as well as lessons that we can all benefit from.
Section 2: Case Studies (p97-342)- A very good series of warts and all case studies from US, Japan and Australia, written by a group of contributors. While not all in a factory production environment, they do tend to be in similar areas (ship repair: high volume valve overhaul shop, health care: path lab, nuclear: fuel can manufacture, resource industry: mining site). Many comments contrast mechanistic 6 sigma with the organic lean approach the authors take.
Section 3: Making your Vision a Reality (p343-432) - useful practical application material, useful for companies planning a lean transition and for budding consultants.
The authors do have certain views as consultants that not all readers will agree with but the book has value for anyone aiming for continuous improvement or planning a major cultural or organisational change.
Others have their own reasons for thinking so highly of this book. Here are two of mine. First, as I correctly anticipated, Liker and Franz clear the air and set the record straight with regard to the facts concerning Toyota's widely-publicized, widely-perceived "problems" that ked to the recall of more then 10 million vehicles between late-2009 and early-2010. I hasten to add that Liker and Franz in no way come across as apologists for Toyota. Rather, they address head-on the major issues to assess the legitimate claims while ensuring that the soundness of Toyota's management principles is reaffirmed.
I also appreciate the participation of six guest contributors who play major roles when Liker and Franz focus on a series of case studies of learn transformation in Section Two. They are world-class authorities who invest the narrative with an even richer texture of experience and, more importantly, of wisdom in combination with "street smarts." They include, in Chapters 6, 7 & 9, Robert Kucner ("When Organic Meets Mechanistic: Lean Overhaul and Repair of Ships"), Tony McNaughton ("An Australian Sensei Teaches a Proud Japanese Company New Tricks: Brining TPS to a Complex Equipment Manufacturer"), and Richard Zarbo ("Bringing Ford's Ideas Alive at Henry Fort Health System Labs Through PDCA Leadership").
FYI, as Liker and Franz explain, in Japanese, the word "sensei literally means `teacher,' but it implies much more. It implies the respect granted to a master of his craft by the apprentice [deshi] who is struggling to learn that craft." As for PDCA, it refers to "plan/do/check/ adjust, a mantra that W. Edwards Deming taught to the Japanese. Again as Liker and Franz explain, "When an organization embraces PDCA, it starts to grow to become a learning organization. Projects go beyond one-offs and become a continuous stream of learning opportunities on the road to excellence." My own opinion is that continuous learning is interdependent with continuous improvement and both are essential to reaching the ultimate objective: "to link strategy and operational performance to achieve and then sustain superior performance." That is why Liker and Franz stress, "For Toyota, PDCA is more than a way to get results from process improvement. It is a way of developing people."
No brief commentary such as this can possibly do full justice to the wealth of information, insights, and recommendations that Jeffrey Liker and James Franz provide. However, I do hope that I have given at least some indication of the scope and depth of their brilliant coverage of that material.
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