Interview from the UK Lean Summit 2015 - Toyota Lean Management Centre

Planet Lean editor Roberto Priolo sat down with Ian Hurst and Keith Edwards of the Toyota Lean Management Centre – who spoke at our Summit this past November – to discuss standardized work, and more.


Toyota Lean Management Centre

Roberto Priolo: What’s the biggest difficulty that organizations that are introducing standardized work encounter?

Ian Hurst: Too often organizations try to standardize an unstable process, which is of course very difficult to do. Without stability your standardization efforts will fail, there is no question about that.

The foundation must be problem solving, which is what Toyota has essentially spent 80 years doing. Problem solving gives us the level of stability that we need to introduce standardized work cycles and improve. Just-in-time and jidoka help us to expose the next level of problems, or “create a crisis” if you will.

RP: With what frequency does Toyota review the standards?

IH: One of our Executive Vice Presidents at Toyota in Japan, Nimi-san, said that “it is up to production management to set the standard and up to the shop floor to break it.” People will find a better way. The key to that is then re-standardizing, re-training everybody and making sure the standard is being followed consistently, until we find the next improvement. It is not an explicit activity, and the company’s expectation is that we do this every day, that we improve all our processes every day. That’s what continuous improvement means.

Keith Edwards: The standard is very much the beginning of the journey. If you try something new and it doesn’t work, the worst thing that can happen is that you go back to the original standard. This limits the risk, because all you are doing is improving an already-existing standard.

RP: We often think that standards kill our people’s ability to be creative. What do you say to that?

KE: Let’s take a doctor in a hospital as an example. We would see him or her as an expert, who doesn’t have to spend time on mundane tasks. If we can remove and standardize a portion of his/her activity, he or she can use his/her real expertise to look at the higher end.

IH: Standardized work is not a straitjacket, but a framework. Within it, there is always room to move, to find that better way I mentioned above. Before you can do that, however, you need to build a certain level of trust on the shop floor. Our people know that if their job is improved and time is freed up, we will always find more value-creating activities for them to do.

RP: What does it mean to respect people?

KE: People give us 8 to 10 hours of their day, and respecting them means to use that time correctly. We don’t want to have them running around like headless chickens. Instead, we want to ensure their time is used for value-added activities, so that when they go home they know they have contributed to what Toyota is trying to achieve.

That’s why we look at how we can enhance their daily work. We give them control of the process, and the tools that help them to improve it (it’s both physical tools and the ability to problem solve). We give people basic skills so that they can do the improvement and solve problems themselves.

IH: With every pair of hands comes a free brain. If, as a manager, you decide not to engage that, it’s your failure. Don’t just engage the hands (have people do the production work) but also the brain (have them come up with better ways of doing things). A brain left at the gates has no value to us. We strongly believe that all our people have something to contribute to the improvement of our process.

RP: During your workshop you said that overproduction is the most dangerous type of waste, because it generates all the other forms - what is the most adequate countermeasure?

IH: Takt-time manufacturing. Fundamentally, that’s what it is all about: making products at the rate the customer wants us to make them. That means we can minimize our inventories and that we don’t need systems to manage that inventory. It means that we don’t incur the additional risk of building more parts, which might end up being defective and reaching the customer (at that point, finding the root cause would be extremely difficult).

KE: Takt also challenges you to have a stable, reliable and repeatable process. You need to make things in the hours you have, and that limits the stock you can build up. It also helps you to respond quickly and flexibly to fluctuations in demand.

IH: TPS describes a perfect system. We have Toyota’s current production system and we have TPS, and there is a gap between the two. We strive to build that ideal system that allows us to appropriately respond to real customer demand every day (which means we should always be able to product to takt). That’s exceptionally difficult to manage, but it’s where we want to get. Will we ever get there? We’ve been at it for 80 years and we are still a long way away. But that doesn’t mean we will stop trying.

RP: Just like any other company, Toyota has made mistakes in the past. What have you learned from them?

IH: We expanded too quickly, and we experienced recalls and other problems as a consequence. There is no doubt some of it came from our loss of focus on the customer. We were talking about expanding our capacity, but the customers don’t care about that – they care about quality. Our focus had really drifted. Top management is now focusing again on meeting customer needs, and that was a great learning for us. We have done reflection on it, and that’s going to make the difference for Toyota.

We have a system for learning in place, but when it comes to PDCA, the C and A phases are the ones people tend to struggle with the most. Toyota, however, is great at reflecting on what goes wrong. The importance of continuous reflection cannot be overstated.

RP: At the Toyota Lean Management Centre, what is your approach to capturing the learning you gain from working with organizations?

KE: It’s that same system of reflection. After every job, we do hansei using an A3. We try to understand what made us successful (or unsuccessful) so that the next time we can support other organizations better.

RP: What’s in it for Toyota?

IH: Built in our fundamental principles is the idea of being a good corporate citizen and helping the world develop. A lot of the ideas that were in place in 1934 when the company was founded are still our core beliefs. That’s why we are not for profit at TLMC: we don’t think we should profit from sharing what we learn. This creates healthy competition and it encourages us to always do better.

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