Decoding the Dna of Toyota Production Systems
Decoding the Dna of Toyota Production Systems

Decoding the Dna of Toyota Production Systems

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  • Published: October 16, 2017
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www. hbrreprints. org Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System by Steven Spear and H.

Kent Bowen Included with this full-text Harvard Business Review article: The Idea in Brief—the core idea The Idea in Practice—putting the idea to work 1 Article Summary 2 Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System A list of related materials, with annotations to guide further exploration of the article’s ideas and applications 12 Further Reading The Toyota story has been intensively researched and painstakingly documented, yet what really happens inside the company remains a mystery. Here’s new insight nto the unspoken rules that give Toyota its competitive edge. Reprint 99509 Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System page 1 The Idea in Brief The Idea in Practice COPYRIGHT © 2006 HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL PUBLISHING CORPORATION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Toyota’s renowned production system (TPS) has long demonstrated the competitive advantage of continuous process improvement. And companies in a wide range of industries—aerospace, metals processing, consumer products—have tried to imitate TPS.

Yet most fail. Why? Managers adopt TPS’s obvious practices, without applying the four unwritten rules that make TPS successful.Like strands of DNA, these rules govern how people carry out their jobs, how they interact with each other, how products and services flow, and how people identify and address process problems. The rules rigidly specify how every activity— from the shop floor to the executive suite, from installing seat bolts to reconfiguring a manufacturing plant—should be performed. Deviations from the specifications become instantly visible, prompting people to respond immediately with real-time experiments to e

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radicate problems in their own work.

Result? A disciplined yet flexible and creative community of scientists ho continually push Toyota closer to its zero-defects, just-in-time, no-waste ideal. Mastering TPS’s four rules takes time. But by dedicating yourself to the process, you stand a better chance of replicating Toyota’s DNA—and its performance. TPS’s four rules: All work is highly specified in its content, sequence, timing, and outcome. Employees follow a well-defined sequence of steps for a particular job. This specificity enables people to see and address deviations immediately—encouraging continual learning and improvement.

Example: Installing the right-front seat in a Camry requires seven tasks performed in a specific equence over 55 seconds. If a worker finds himself doing task 6 before task 4 or falling behind schedule, he and his supervisor correct the problem promptly. Then they determine whether to change the task specifications or retrain the worker to prevent a recurrence. Each worker knows who provides what to him, and when.

Workers needing parts submit cards specifying part number, quantity, and required destination. Suppliers must respond to materials requests within specified periods of time. Workers encountering a problem ask for help immediately. Designated assistants must respond at once and resolve the problem within he worker’s cycle time (e. g. , the 55 seconds it takes to install a front seat).

Failure to fulfill these specifications signals a search for potential causes—such as ambiguous requests from colleagues or an overwhelmed assistant. Once the cause is identified, it’s resolved rather than kept hidden. Every product and service flows along a simple, specified path. Good

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and services don’t flow to the next available person or machine—but to a specific person or machine.

Example: If workers at an auto parts supplier find themselves waiting to send a product to the next designated machine they conclude hat their demand on the next machine doesn’t match their expectations. They revisit the organization of their production line to determine why the machine was not available, and redesign the flow path. Any improvement to processes, worker/ machine connections, or flow path must be made through the scientific method, under a teacher’s guidance, and at the lowest possible organizational level. Frontline workers make improvements to their own jobs.

Supervisors provide direction and assistance as teachers. Example: At one Toyota factory, workers seeking to reduce a machine’s changeover time from 5 to 5 minutes were able to reduce the time only to 7. 5 minutes. A manager asked why they hadn’t achieved their original 5- minute goal. His question helped them see that their original goal had been a random guess, not based on a formal hypothesis about how fast it could be done and why. Thus they couldn’t test the hypothesis to determine what caused the less-thanideal results.

Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System by Steven Spear and H. Kent Bowen harvard business review • september–october 1999 page 2 COPYRIGHT © 1999 HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL PUBLISHING CORPORATION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.The Toyota story has been intensively researched and painstakingly documented, yet what really happens inside the company remains a mystery. Here’s new insight into the unspoken rules that give Toyota its competitive edge.

The Toyota Production System has long been hailed as the source of Toyota’s outstanding performance as a manufacturer. The system’s distinctive practices—its kanban cards and quality circles, for instance—have been widely introduced elsewhere. Indeed, following their own internal efforts to benchmark the world’s best manufacturing companies, GM, Ford, and Chrysler have independently created ajor initiatives to develop Toyota-like production systems. Companies that have tried to adopt the system can be found in fields as diverse as aerospace, consumer products, metals processing, and industrial products.

What’s curious is that few manufacturers have managed to imitate Toyota successfully— even though the company has been extraordinarily open about its practices. Hundreds of thousands of executives from thousands of businesses have toured Toyota’s plants in Japan and the United States. Frustrated by their inability to replicate Toyota’s performance, many visitors assume that the secret of Toyota’s success ust lie in its cultural roots. But that’s just not the case. Other Japanese companies, such as Nissan and Honda, have fallen short of Toyota’s standards, and Toyota has successfully introduced its production system all around the world, including in North America, where the company is this year building over a million cars, mini-vans, and light trucks.

So why has it been so difficult to decode the Toyota Production System? The answer, we believe, is that observers confuse the tools and practices they see on their plant visits with the system itself. That makes it impossible for them to resolve an apparent paradox of the ystem—namely, that activities, connections, and production flows in a

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