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Bringing Toyota Close to Home

Your company need not be in the automotive industry to benefit from the principles of the Toyota Production System. Whether you’re running a critical care unit, overseeing cross-country trucking operations or opening an art school, you can learn valuable lessons from the Toyota Production System.

We’ll apply TPS in certain situations to bring some principles into focus.

Waste (muda)

TPS frowns on waste. Waste happens when the wrong processes are employed and no one bothers to stop to solve the weaknesses and defects in a given process.  Toyota promotes attention to detail – not later but right away. If people prepare ahead of time and do their homework, the processes won’t be wrong. As one writer jokingly said, the devil is in the preparation. Unfortunately, thorough preparation seems to be a tall order for many.

If you’re running a health facility that provides critical care, what are some potential areas of waste? In a health care unit, supplies and equipment that are normally used first are stored in an area that takes five minutes to access. It could be the way the rooms were initially laid out, it could be due to lack of planning, it could be indifference on the part of health workers. If you were to run an efficient facility for the sole purpose of saving lives, shouldn’t the urgent materials and equipment be within easy reach so that when ambulances transport people in need of immediate attention, no time is wasted by scrambling, getting the equipment up and running.

The same goes for your art school. While it makes for good publicity, why have an overstock of art supplies when your current enrollment dictates that not even 50% of these supplies will be used during the semester? When there’s too much inventory on art paints, for example, the paints and watercolors will eventually dry out and won’t be of much use for the next batch of students.

In the trucking industry and especially in light of high fuel prices, trucking routes can be organized in such a way that a truck does not have to go back and forth to the central to pick up merchandise. If a truck were to return to home base say three times a day to deliver merchandise to a different location each time, calculate the cost of the return trip in terms of travelling time, fuel consumption, and man hours.

If trucking routes were more organized, the same truck could do different deliveries by sticking to only one route without ever having to return to the central station.

Just in Time (JIT)

Toyota created this popular phrase to promote the idea that materials should be moved and made available so that the next operation in the production cycle is not delayed. JIT of course can be applied to work places and situations other than in the manufacturing sector (getting to the church in time to be married is certainly only one of the thousands of examples).
Take the case of a public relations outfit. If you have a busy public relations practice where you have writers who work round the clock for hundreds of your clients, giving them too much work than they can handle – overburdening them to be exact – can lead to multiple delays. These multiple delays are illustrated in the example below:
Company A schedules a product launch. It needs a plethora of press releases. Your agency receives the mandate to do these press releases. You assign it to your favorite writer. This writer suddenly has a family emergency and cannot finish the press releases. Company A does not receive the press releases on time and has had to postpone whatever announcements were scheduled. In the meantime, the product has not been released to the market. This particular situation may seem unimportant compared to a massive car assembly line, but the consequences are just as serious.
When there’s substantial writing to be done, you should not have your favorite writer do all the work just to impress your clients. Arrange it in such a way that each writer gets a fair share of the writing load, so that a promised deadline does not turn into an embarrassing negotiation for an extended deadline.  By spreading the work, you give your other writers the chance to prove their talents.


In A Team Leader’s Guide to Lean Kaizen Events (Breakthrough Performance Press, 2006) authors William Wes Waldo, Tom Jones, Neil DeCarlo and Colin Moore focus on another Japanese concept – Kaizen. The term is actually made up of two words: kai (change) and zen (good).
In their book, the authors begin with the premise that change is good. Good change, however, is better. Kaizen aims to break down the project mentality so that it motivates people to action.
We once worked in a distribution company where the Chief Executive Officer wanted to implement some changes in the product marketing section. The company was a successful distribution operation, thanks to an efficient product marketing team that had been doing the same tasks for many years with little deviation. When the CEO realized that changes were needed to bring back straying customers back to the fold, some key managers resisted these changes. When asked why, they refused to speak up. His instincts told him that change was inevitable and would bring back the thousands of customers it had lost. Someone argued that departing customers can always be replaced by new customers, but the chairman had a more benevolent nature and sincerely wanted to keep his old customers.
The CEO borrowed from the practices of lean manufacturing by appointing a Black Belt to oversee the change. Black belts and Green belts were martial arts titles conferred by Motorola on some of its employees when it was eyeing the Malcolm Bridge National Quality Award. While not strictly an invention of the Toyota Production System the terms Black belts and Green belts would be a close equivalent of the work teams and participatory management that Toyota is known for.

Peter Peterka is the President of For information on Six Sigma trainingSix Sigma Certification or Master Black Belt programs contact Peter Peterka.

Author: Peter Peterka Google

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