The Toyota Way: Strive for Continuous Improvement


This post covers the second chapter of David Magee’s book on Toyota’s philosophy of lean production called “How Toyota Became #1.”    In this chapter, he introduces the Toyota Production System, or TPS. 1.  Toyota Pr0duction System or TPS TPS is a commitment to continuous improvement or kaizen through the elimination of waste or muda.    The continuous improvement is not dictated by management, but is rather cultivated through creative employee contributions.   It is definitely a bottom-up, rather than top-down, flow of ideas.   The TPS is not just a lean production tool, but rather a guiding principle by which to live and work. TPS is a collection of manufacturing methods that incorporate three key philosophies:

  • Customer first
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Company stability

2.  Bigger is Not Necessarily Better

GM tried to learn about TPS from the joint venture between Toyota and General Motors called NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.).   However, General Motors saw TPS as a tool for making products at lower costs.   However, at Toyota, TPS is an extension of the Toyota’s basic founding principles of respect, thrift, and perseverance.  TPS is not just its approach to manufacturing, but its approach to business as a whole.   Kaizen, the principle of continuous improvement, is applied in offices as well as in factories.

One enthusiastic adherent of TPS was Gary Convis, who left Ford after being an employee for 18 years to take a job with Toyota in 1984 as plant manager at NUMMI.    Toyota was making inroads in the US market by selling value-priced compact cars, while the US carmakers continued to focus instead on more upscale, luxury sedans.   When Convis went to Japan to tour Toyota’s Takaoka plant to see TPS in action, he was an immediate convert.    Convis learned from some of the world’s best implementers of TPS and use them to transform NUMMI into a thriving automotive assembly site.

The best way to describe the culture change that TPS made at NUMMI was the fact that Japanese bosses were not were referred to as bosses but as sensei (teachers). The surface level of lean production is when it is used a tool to create products at lower costs.   However, TPS goes deeper; there lean production began as an extension of the company’s basic founding principles of respect, thrift, and perseverance.   TPS is not just Toyota’s “unique approach to manufacturing”, but rather it is its unique approach to business as a whole.

The three objectives of TPS are

  • Highest quality
  • Lowest cost
  • Shortest lead time

3.  Understand the Evolving System

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