In 1999, Steven Spear and H. Kent Bowen published their article “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System”. In this article, the authors articulated the fundamental nature of the Toyota Production System through the definition of four principles, which they called the “Rules In Use”. If you work in the area of operations management or continuous improvement and you haven’t read it, I really believe you owe it to yourself to do so. You can obtain a copy from the Harvard Business Review, or if you look hard enough you should find one floating around the internet.
Spear and Bowen’s article speaks to the Toyota Production System following these rules:
Rule 1: All work shall be highly specified as to content, sequence, timing, and outcome.
Rule 2: Every customer-supplier connection must be direct, and there must be an unambiguous yes-or-no way to send requests and receive responses.
Rule 3: The pathway for every product and service must be simple and direct.
Rule 4: Any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method, under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest possible level in the organization.
According to the authors, it is through the continuous response to problems via the scientific method that allows Toyota to introduce changes and improvements to its operations without negatively affecting productivity. The way people improve their work and the processes they support is through quick, “get-in-and-out” changes at the source of the issues.
Think about how many of your organization’s deep-rooted problems you thought were insurmountable would simply resolve themselves if these rules were in play? Issues with the way things are done would be undeniably…issues, and treated as such. Standardization would be inherent by design. Most of all, continuous improvement would be organic – instituting itself where it is needed at the time it is needed.
It is understood that many organizations would consider themselves operating so far from these four rules that putting together a road map to get there would be a daunting task. I am sure you could spill out ten or more reasons why these rules could not get implemented at your organization, and do so rather quickly. From our experience, my consultancy’s contention is that there are really only two hurdles you need to truly address:
Hurdle 1: Currently, both workers and their supervisors don’t have the know-how to engage in directed problem solving
Hurdle 2: Standard, simple and direct ways for things to be done don’t exist and pose an obstacle to best servicing the entire book of business.
Directed problem solving isn’t a prerequisite for managers in most organizations. At Toyota, this skill is instrumental for not only reaching the solution to problems, but for evangelizing the four rules. Hence through the problem solving exercise, workers get a better appreciation and understanding of problem solving through the scientific method. I will also contend that through these exercises (under the right tutelage) they will appreciate and understand the need to institute to the best of their ability the first three rules within their radii of influence.
Having a group of folks who are both knowledgeable in the four rules and capable of teaching the rules through well-ordered problem solving is instrumental into transforming workers and supervisors into implementers of this road map of change. Who are these folks? In your organization, it can (and should) be the Lean Six Sigma team. Realigning the way you look at your LSS team’s role (if required) in such a manner offers your organization the opportunity to transform itself one department at a time. I have a difficult time believing that playing such a critical role in instituting a “four rule” transformation can be considered anything less than a success for your program, even in the face of those who believe LSS is all about “big game” projects each with million dollar wins. Most of all, you CAN be successful in instituting this transformation one department at a time when you start with the departments that have the attributes listed in my previous post.
So now I’ve finished discussing WHAT needs to be done, but I haven’t touched on HOW. I also haven’t discussed how to address hurdle #2. Hurdle #2 will be addressed in due time, but in my next posting I will discuss the tool you will use if you want to put this theory into practice.