Saturday, August 21, 2010

Does a sustainable Lean Implementation require inventing the wheel again?

The comparison of a Lean implementation with evolution is exactly what I think Lean ‘was’ all about, when Toyota started their Lean journey in the 50th.

Today, everyone is staring at Toyota as role model, but at the same time many seem to be paralyzed like a bunny staring at the snake!

Some companies I consult for want to be a Toyota – at least at the beginning before they understand what it’s really about.

But we need to keep in mind that in respect to successfully implementing Lean, there is a huge difference between
  1. Toyota in the 50th and how Toyota started and evolved over time and
  2. Toyota today and how inexperienced companies want to jump into being the Toyota of today.

For instance, people will - or will not - get the hang of why Toyota is so successful today, after 50+ years working hard on their TPS system or more correctly on their ‘Toyota Way’, how they found the way of single piece flow, documentation, standard work, applying the Asian cultural advantages, respecting people etc. etc. etc. …

But how can Toyota build one plant after the other in the Western world, hiring Western people and still run a TPS system very successfully and [almost] flawless within weeks…???

There is s clear and very important difference between starting a Lean journey from scratch and duplicating a Lean status quo within an organization into a new entity in the same of very similar industry.

What is the difference?

When starting a lean journey from scratch you face the same situation Toyota was facing in the 50th and you have to make your way through evolution, trial and error etc. to move forward and to improve. Yes, not quite because you can take some, but limited experiences and learning from Toyota to speed up your process. If you are an automotive manufacture your implementation will – should - go faster than for companies outside that industry.

When duplicating a well defined model such as TPS into a new entity or industry, everything is based on two aspects:
  1. The ‘EXACT’ knowledge of how to build your product with bulletproofed and very well developed and defined processes and Standard Work Instructions for ‘EVERY!’ process involved including a system with 100% transparency in sharing and communicating this knowledge to everyone in the most effective way – the framework.
  2. An advance hiring and training process to select exactly the right people with the right skills, knowledge, desire and personality profile that are matching the job profile to be filled.
    I am not elaboration on the technical infrastructure such as equipment, IT and logistics, since this usually does not make the difference in business performance.
So, it’s about ‘knowing’ the best way to build a car or product PLUS having this ‘documented’ in a way that everyone understands it, without any room for errors or misinterpretation.

This is the case for Toyota, knowing how to build cars and having it documented in a way that the execution is people independent to a high degree.

GM – and some others – know how to build cars but the degree of process optimization and especially bulletproofed documentation of standard processes, not to mention open internal information sharing is far behind the leading companies.

Even if GM - or some others - would fire all their workforce to get around the always stressed Union constraints and benefit burdens and would hire all new employees, they would fail completely since they don’t have the best processes in place nor are they documented as standard in the needed sufficient way.

==> Catch 22 or tough luck, right?

I believe Toyota’s journey was exactly an evolution of trails and errors with a clear goal in mind. The main contents or goal might have been: ‘JIT and no inventory’ and the evolution took place around that guiding principle.

Like a tree that might be guided by the nature of growing, but without a pre-set building plan about where exactly the branches and leaves will be growing – well, I might be on thin biology ice with this comparison …

A better comparison might be to ‘us’ – humans -, born and just equipped with the BIOS chip to get us booted up but without an operating manual and (almost) doomed to fail…if we did not have our parents to start programming some application software into our brains.
I would still call this evolution, even if the experiences of our parents are guiding and biasing their programming, training and teaching.

Now, trying as company to get to today’s Toyota level as sort of benchmark is already doomed to fail, since
  1. It took Toyota 60+ years of evolution to get there, if at all you could benchmark against Toyota’s level in the 60th or 70th and trying to get to that level – but who wants THAT??
  2. No business nor company is comparable in products and culture, hence most of the time it would not even make sense to use Toyota as benchmark
By the way, benchmarking against other companies makes not a lot of sense anyhow, since you limit yourself automatically. The only benchmark acceptable from my perspective would be against ‘perfection’ or ‘excellence’ or something like that.

Now, does this imply, that in order to implement Lean successful we always have to invent the wheel again and need to go through all failures and spend 50+ years to move our companies towards today’s Toyota level…???

If looking at the ONLY real difficulty in implementing Lean sustainable – The Human Side or Cultural Aspects of Lean -, one might come to a conclusion that is pretty close to that….

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