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Can you implement TPS if management doesn’t accept the fundamental values of the Toyota Way?

1/28/2019
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Dear Gemba Coach,

How can we implement the principles of  TPS if our management doesn’t accept the fundamental values of the Toyota Way?

Wow, thank you for a fascinating question.  By values of the Toyota Way do you mean kaizen and respect? Here’s what I have from Toyota documents:

  • Challenge: We form a long-term vision, meeting challenges with courage and creativity to realize our dreams.
  • Kaizen: We improve our business operations continuously, always driving for innovation and evolution.
  • Genchi Genbutsu: We go to the source to find the facts to make correct decisions, build consensus, and achieve goals at our best speed.
  • Respect: We respect others, make every effort to understand each other, take responsibility, and do our best to build mutual trust.
  • Teamwork: We stimulate personal and professional growth, share the opportunities of development, and maximize individual and team performance.

Personally, I struggle with three things. First, I’m not quite sure what the people who wrote that actually meant – after Avalanches are started by a few rolling stones. Be the change you want to effect. Act first, rationalize it second.all, they’re from a very different cultural background than my own. Second, any senior manager worth his or her salt would tick each box on that list nodding “Yep, we do that.” Third, I’m uneasy with what “values” actually means. Values are supposed to be principles, standards of behavior, a judgment on what is important in life. Yet, in practice, the very people who profess values (and I include myself) can be caught doing the opposite every day. This is not surprising if a value is something one aspires to; it’s hard, so no wonder we fail – repeatedly.

Formulating a guiding “north star” means expressing an ideal which seems out of reach in the current situation, but which we can legitimately think is a good direction and we can strive to move towards it step by step. What is the next step we can take from the Toyota Way values? Unclear.

On the other hand, let’s look at the Toyota Production System principles:

  1. Seek customers’ smiles: What is the extra step we can take to make one extra customer more completely satisfied?
  2. Sell one, make one – use one, procure one: How far are we from that and where do we need to work first to get closer to just-in-time?
  3. Don’t accept defectives, don’t make defectives, don’t pass on defectives: How can we better spot defectives and react faster to stop them before they pollute the flow?
  4. No peaks and valleys in the workload: How can we better smooth, fraction and mix the workload to avoid the overburden of ups and downs?
  5. Safe, smooth, and seamless work: What must we fix to move more confidently from one task to the next to get the job done right -- first time and on time? How do we practice these standards more assiduously?
  6. Always a better way: What should we kaizen right now, right away? How is this going to bring value closer to the customer?
  7. Start with good basic conditions: What manpower, machine, materials, and method problems do we need to solve for each team to start its work day in good 5S conditions?

You can find a concrete answer to each of these questions at any time, whatever your job is even when it seems unlikely. Think for instance of a hospital ward; you can’t control how fast patients will heal, nor the evolution of their diseases, nor, for that matter how doctors behave. And still:

  1. What can we do practically to make each patient in our care feel a bit better today? How can we better respond to one of their requests?
  2. How can we make sure patients do leave at the appointed time (making room for the next patient waiting in the emergency ward) by making sure that every critical exam happens on time?
  3. How can we develop the awareness to see when something is not quite right, and look into it rather than dismiss it?
  4. How can we prioritize work to vary the workload according to patient caseload by putting patients first? How can we get help from other resources?
  5. Let’s look at patient touch time and figure out everything else that gets in the way? How can we minimize the logistics and administrative burden.? How can we open ourselves to a healing touch?
  6. How can we describe to ourselves the perfect care and every day, find one simple, single step to take to get closer to this ideal? How do we better understand patient’s will to heal (or lack of it) and caregivers will to care (or lack of it)?
  7. How can we daily clean and purify the ward and solve problems to create the right working and caring conditions for the team, and teach them to better deal with daily incidents while still putting patients first?

In the hospital case, I don’t doubt everyone who works there has the right values – how would they end up there if not. But values are tested by daily friction and conflict. Love for the job is confronted to the fear, envy, or lies routinely spread by management and can easily turn into distaste or disgust. Values are a necessary, and foundational, but a very uncertain guide.

Be the Change You Want

TPS, however, enables you to act yourself into Toyota Way values. By committing to a win a day, a step a day, you can act, confront, further the values and in doing so understand them more deeply.

Yes, I believe that one, individually, can use TPS every day to orient one’s work, even if the overall managerial atmosphere is toxic and far removed from the values of the Toyota Way. True leadership is taking that next step, no matter how mundane or small, in the right direction, and then connecting to others who do the same. Avalanches are started by a few rolling stones. Be the change you want to effect. Act first, rationalize it second.

5 Comments | Post a Comment
Carl Watt January 28, 2019

Thanks for the great coaching Michael, to find some one thing we can do despite any problems. 

Kithsiri de Silva January 29, 2019

Yes it will be challenging but still there should be a way. If the management support is weak the implementation will be slow. I suggest the first step should be to create the awareness and to create few quick wins. 

Kithsiri de Silva January 29, 2019

Yes it will be challenging but still there should be a way. If the management support is weak the implementation will be slow. I suggest the first step should be to create the awareness and to create few quick wins. 

Michael A. Anleitner February 4, 2019

If there is a high level of satisfaction with the status quo--or no real dissatisfaction with the way things are (which isn't quite the same as satisfaction...), then efforts to employ TPS will fail.

Frankly, if the pain of implementation is greater than the current pain felt by managers, then implementation will be poor. And, as everyone knows, even small steps toward TPS are difficult and disruptive, even though they seem simple and straightforward.

No matter how attractive the future might appear to be if TPS is adopted, comfort with the current state will overwhelm your efforts.

Jimmy2times February 4, 2019

Beautifully put Michael!

Sometimes if we really reflect deeply enough and are completely honest with ourselves, we often report failings in others (like "management") for not embracing Lean enough as a way of masking gaps in our own willingness and persistance to lead by example.

If leadership or management don't appear to understand, seek to understand their position and then help them learn and see.

Be the change you want to see in others.

Find a way, not an excuse!

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