APARADOX OF THE TOYOTA WAY is that though it is continually improving and changing, the core concepts remain consistent. We are continuously learning new aspects of the process and seeing different applications in different situations. Yet as our understanding deepens, the “basics” continually resurface, guiding decisions and methods. One thing that seems to shock many of the people we teach and advise is the difficulty even Toyota has had in globalizing the Toyota Way. Consider some of the icons of the Toyota Production System in North America: the Toyota plant in Georgetown, Kentucky; Toyota’s joint venture with General Motors, NUMMI in California; and Toyota’s largest supplier, Denso, in Battlecreek, Michigan. All three locations went through a dip on the Toyota Way around 2000 as they were rapidly expanding and dealing with a changing workforce and management team, and all three have made heroic efforts to bring the level of Toyota Way thinking back up and are now moving to even higher levels of self-sufficiency in the Toyota Way. This is important because it suggests the culture underlying all the neat lean systems many companies are busily working to implement does not necessarily come naturally, particularly outside of Japan, and takes constant effort to maintain. Even Toyota group companies in America, with their lean tools that are the envy of most other companies, slip back and must work to move forward. We have had many experiences in observing, teaching, and consulting throughout the world. At each step we realize that the core concepts and philosophies are applicable in every situation and are truly the most important aspects to learn. The greatest challenge in facing each new and unique situation is to understand how to flexibly apply the methods of the Toyota Way, yet remain true to the core concepts.
There is no “one way” to do any of the lean processes. We have finally concluded that there are certain things that a good Toyota Production System (TPS) sensei instinctively knows and understands but they “don’t know how they know.” This provides an ongoing challenge to effectively communicate with and teach others. The Toyota Way is passed from person to person through a process of repeated suggestions to “just do,” multiple attempts, reflections, and review, further attempts and reviews, and so on, continuing again and again until intuitional ability is achieved. This method of learning creates a challenge when it comes to explaining “why” something is done, or why it is important. How do we know what we know? How do we know what to do next? How do we see traps? The answer is: It seems intuitive and right. We always insist in any company we work with that individuals be assigned full-time as disciples of the Toyota Way. They must be coached by a lean expert one-on-one, much as anyone experienced at a craft (cooking, sewing, sports) would pass on his or her accumulated wisdom to a student. This method is slow and tedious; however, it develops individuals capable of facing any condition and understanding an appropriate course of action. It develops individuals who believe in their gut and “know” the right thing to do next. This is important, since they will continually have to convince others who do not believe, and do not know, and wish to continue the old ways. This book is an attempt to clarify the thought process used by Toyota and how those ideas are applied and used to create the tremendous success Toyota has achieved. We focus on how to think about the process and about solutions. This process will provide many challenges along the way. Always remember the frequent admonitions and challenge that is issued at Toyota: “Please try” and “Do your best.”