The Toyota Production System (TPS) – The Making of a Post war Automotive Star

It is said that the rise and rise of Toyota can be attributed to the philosophy, now termed the TPS (Toyota production system.) Developed in part by Toyota’s vice president Taiichi Ohno and its founder Sakichi Toyoda during the post war decades, Toyota’s phenomenal success has been attributed to its implementation. On the basis of this success, the TPS has been elevated to position of, “Holy Grail,” in the performance enhancement arena. In fact, it has spawned many popular daughter methodologies, of note one termed lean manufacturing, which has become an equally popular practice in both manufacturing and the public sector.

Much of the language related to the TPS retains its Japanese terminology. The essence of the approach is simple. Cut overburden, inconsistency and waste and you are left with a manufacturing system that super-performs, delivering perceived value to the customer and outstanding company returns.
Toyota developed what it termed, “The pull system,” which cuts overproduction by ensuring that inventory mirrors demand, so that unnecessary storage costs are minimized while lead times are significantly cut enabling uninterrupted process flow. The term used to describe this process is the Japanese expression, ”Kan-Ban.” and essentially it translates to a system where, a signal is initiated when a customer buys a product, which further initiates the immediate production of a replacement sale item.

The TPS also concentrates on:
• Addressing wastage
• Cutting activities considered to add no value to the customer
• Adopting a minimalist approach to product transportation and operator movements during task performance
• Replacing idle time with productive tasks and
• Eradicating product errors

In order to address product errors a process known as, “Poka Yoke,” is employed. Here, root causes of the defect are determined by rigorous investigation and steps are taken to insure that the defect can never occur again.
What made the TPS a pioneer of its time was the emphasis on not just seeking to optimize the technical aspects of the manufacturing process but also addressing what Trist and Tavistock in the early fifties had termed, “the socio-technical system,” (SDS). The theory of the SDS is that the human and technical aspects of any manufacturing process are inextricably linked. Thus, technical aspects including machinery, process, procedures and physical arrangement co-exist with human factors such as relationships, values and attitudes. In order to optimize performance the symbiosis must be mutually beneficial. As such, for example, if the process necessitates co-operation between team members, harmony must exist between those members and if the task requires knowledge and expertise then appropriate training is imperative.

Perceived relevance of the SDS lead Toyota to integrate a style of HR management that encouraged both innovation and full participation of employees at all levels within the organization. Ideas for improved performance were solicited from all levels including the shop floor. Participation was encouraged by a reward system for implementation of successful ideas. The belief was that such participation would foster high morale and high levels of job satisfaction and instill employees with a sense of loyalty and ownership. Furthermore, it was considered the best possible way to spread the net wide in order to increase the likelihood of sourcing winning ideas.

In the same mold, the TPS culture encouraged continual staff development and support. The rationale was that a well trained workforce is far better equipped to fully engage with the technical systems essential for star performance.
Toyota believed that such fully engaged, well trained and satisfied employees would be far more disposed to readily adopt the cultural changes needed for super-performance. In Toyota’s case there are few that will argue that the strategy did not work.

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