SCDigest Editorial Staff
Toyota is facing enormous challenges over its problems with rapid vehicle acceleration and the related billion dollar recall and public relations disaster stemming from the deaths of perhaps 40 people. That in turn is causing some people to point the finger at Lean – the popular name for the legendary Toyota Production System – as an important factor in the quality problems.
Is this Lean criticism justified? Both sides raise some interesting points.
In explaining the quality issues, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda is saying before the US Congress and elsewhere that Toyota may have grown more rapidly than its quality systems could keep up with.
"Toyota has, for the past few years, been expanding its business rapidly. Quite frankly, I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick," Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder, told a congressional committee last week.
However, almost unmentioned during this latest crisis is that Toyota said very similar things during another recall crisis in 2004 that was somewhat less publicized because the quality issues did not result in the deaths associated with the current sudden acceleration problems.
Amidst a series of recalls and lower quality ratings from organizations such as JD Powers, “there has been a watering down in both knowledge and belief in the famed Toyota Production System,” at the company, as SCDigest noted almost six years ago. (See Growth and Global Expansion Put Strains on "the Toyota Way.")
As we wrote then: “Growth has sometimes put more focus on getting cars out the door than adherence to TPS principles. There has been a lack of TPS experts from Japan to train North American supervisors. Language barriers have played a role. There has been a much higher level of turnover in North America, both at the floor level, leading to training issues, as well as at the executive level as TPS experts went to Toyota rivals.”
Toyota vowed at the time to address these issues, which were thought to be mostly a problem in its North American operations.
Now, of course, its faces even bigger issues, which could do long term damage to Toyota’s brand and global sales.
But did Lean contribute to the problems?
“This is not about the failure of Lean, this is about the corruption of a Lean success story through the temptation of cutting costs without understanding the risks and growing the business too fast in order to please short term goals set by senior executives,” says Mike Loughrin, president of Transformance Advisors and a recognized Lean expert and trainer.
He also told SCDigest that “Toyota took a big chance and grew too fast. Lean did not fail them; they failed to keep Lean expertise at the appropriate levels to support the additional capacity they brought on. In addition, they have seen many of their Lean experts leave for other opportunities. The turnover of talent is probably not a big factor for the facilities in Japan, but it could be significant and not fully understood when it applies to US facilities.”
(Manufacturing Article - Continued Below)