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Source: Business-improvement.eu
Lean: Value adding organization
Respect for People Toyota Production System (what) versus Toyota Way (how)
Respect for People in Lean: the Toyota Way

By Dr Jaap van Ede, editor-in-chief Business-improvement.eu, 06-02-2023
Available in Dutch on Procesverbeteren.nl

The two most well-known ‘Lean improvement houses’ are the Toyota Production System and the Toyota Way. The words 'system' and 'way' indicate how these relate to each other.

The Toyota Production System (TPS) describes the hard, technical and visible side of Lean. The aim of the TPS is to maximise the flow (throughput) on the shop floor. You can think of TPS as the 'what' in Lean.

Respect for People is not part of it! In contrast, this is a central in the Toyota Way. This soft and invisible side of Lean describes the 'how'. While the TPS makes improvement options visible, the Toyota Way teaches us how people on the workfoor can exploit these. The Toyota Way is all about respect for people, their problem-solving skills, and their commitment to continuous improvement!

Remarkably, Respect for People is not mentioned in Toyota’s oldest ‘improvement house’: the Toyota Production System (TPS). Published by the carmaker in 1992, it has only two main principles or ‘pillars’: just-in-time and Jidoka!

The TPS focuses on the goal of Lean: produce products (cars in case of Toyota) efficiently, and deliver them quickly. This mission is fulfilled by creating a production chain as smooth as possible, with closely connected production steps, few intermediate stocks, and only smart buffers. The word Lean refers production with little (and smartly chosen) buffers.

This explains the importance of the pillar just-in-time in the TPS: performing a production step only when there is demand for the (intermediate) products it creates. Or producing a buffer before the next step that does not exceed the amount needed to absorb fluctuations.

It is undesirable that quality defects are passed on to a next production step. When this threatens to happen, you want to intervene as soon as possible.

This is addressed by the Jidoka or autonomation principle, the second pillar of the TPS. Production workers and/or smart machines stop production themselves (autonomously), as soon as they notice that something is going wrong or threatens to go wrong with their production step.

Technical side
The TPS, as Toyota's oldest improvement house, describes the goal and thus the ‘what’ of Lean. It is the technical or hard side of it, or the visible manifestation.

Value chains, from sand to customer, are made visible, and with that possible disruptions in the flow. Just-in-time supply from one production link to another ensures that problems are not masked by intermediate stocks. The Jidoka principle reinforces this, by bringing (looming) quality problems to the surface.

Any disruption in the flow is waste, and thus an opportunity to improve. However, every disruption is also a problem, for which people have to find a solution!

Respect, in particular for professionalism and problem-solving skills of people, plays an important role within LeanRespect, in particular for professionalism and problem-solving skills of people, plays an important role within Lean  (source/© Lexus)

Human side out of the picture
If there is no respect for people and their problem-solving skills, Lean will fail. This happened all too often using only the TPS as guide, because this says nothing about the ‘soft’ side of Lean,

The goal of Lean - efficiency and speed - came to justify the means. As a result, the human side got out of the picture. This is not just anti-social - think of lay-offs, for instance. You simply need the cooperation of all the people in a production chain for Lean to succeed. Lean is teamwork. Within each production step, and within a company as a whole.

To address this soft and invisible side of Lean, all people first need to understand which products (or services) their company provides for which customers, and what makes these products valuable. And it must become clear on every workspot which value is added to the products, how this relates to the needs of production steps further down the chain, and what are the key challenges at the moment.

Each production team should also know their position in the production chain, see the box below, and ensure that their production step becomes not a bottleneck, or at least as little as possible

Lean production teams and their position in the chain
Positioning - how do I add value from my place and how does this relate to other places - is relatively easy in car production. In this case your production step is mainly influenced by the step(s) before and after you.

If there is no such linear production street, it is much more difficult to visualise and improve the total value stream. Not recognising this, and step into the trap of local optimisation is a second reason for the failure of Lean, alongside a lack of attention to the role of the people. While there are solutions to optimize non-linear chains with varying production routes, like Quick Response Maufacturing, it often goes wrong. In that case there is lack of improvement direction, linked to the company’s mission, at every workplace.

This is sometimes the case in the application of the step-by-step innovation method Scrum. The goal of Scrum is clear: develop (software) products step by step, which makes it possible to make adjustments along the way. So, the aim is continuous and therefore Agile innovation, as a derivative of continuous and incremental improvement in Lean.

When an organisation is large, the division in Scrum teams, each with their own ‘customer goal’, sometimes is not logical. Then, the goals of the teams are not independent, unlike the production steps in a Lean production chain. As a result, there are often issues that exceed the decision space of a Scrum team. If there is no space to discuss and address those kinds of problems, people will start to apply work-arounds.

In addition, managers should recognise that the production workers, as specialists in executing their production step, are in the best position to improve it. Managers should facilitate this.

The Lean-principle Genchi Genbutsu or Go and See refers to this: the shop floor and not their desk is the place to identify and solve problems, together with the production workers.

The relationship between what in Lean, creating flow with the Toyota Production System as a guide, and the how, the Toyota WayThe relationship between "what" in Lean, creating flow with the Toyota Production System as a guide, and the "how", the Toyota Way. Problem solving by teams is the connecting link, with on-site support by managers (Genchi Genbutsu)
Foto art and © Procesverbeteren.nl & Business-improvement.eu 2023

Toyota Way

The ‘how’ of Lean - production teams working side-by-side with their managers to enable the Toyota Production System - was described in 2001 as the Toyota Way. This guiding document of Toyota was later elaborated in Jeffrey Liker's bestseller with the same name.   (Sidenote: what might lead to some confusion is the fact that Jeffrey Liker included some parts of TPS in the 14 Toyota Way principles in his book, which are not part of the original Toyota Way manuscript).

The Toyota Way, the invisible or soft side of Lean, is sometimes represented as a second Lean improvement house, with continuous improvement and Respect for People as pillars.

The ‘human’ side of Lean is problem solving and continuous improvement by the professionals on the shop floor. To make this possible, they are coached on the spot (at the Gemba) by their managers.

The concept Respect for People expresses that managers need the expertise and help of production workers for ongoing improvement. Craftsmanship is not seen as something that 'lower' educated people do, but as a thing to be proud of, and a skill that many 'higher' educated people do not possess.

Craftsmanship is much more appreciated in Japan than in the west. Japanse words like monozukuri, the art of making things, and Takumi, an honorary title for an expert in his or her production step, highlight this.

A Takumi (master) in the field of metalworking inspects a LexusA Takumi (master) in the field of metalworking inspects a Lexus. This person can feel the slightest oddities (source © Lexus)

Lean principles
The second Lean improvement house, the Toyota Way, is more modern than the first, the Toyota Production System.

If you start with the Toyota Way, you will automatically arrive at the TPS via the pillar continuous improvement. Jeffrey Liker took this route in his book The Toyota Way, when he formulated 14 Lean principles in line with the Toyota Way.

The Toyota Way is also more generically applicable than the TPS, because the just-in-time pillar of the TPS all too quickly provokes a one-sided focus on waste reduction and cost saving. Respect for people and their craftsmanship, essential for Lean, is then lost out of sight.

Product & people value stream
The TPS describes, with the pillars just-in-time and Jidoka, the product value stream.

The Toyota Way encompasses, with its pillars continuous improvement and Respect for People, the people value stream, described by Jeffrey Liker in his book The Toyota Way.

Everything concerning the product value stream is about improving the flow or throughput. The people value stream, on the other hand, focuses on optimazing and using people's potential.

The connecting link is problem solving, by managers and production employees together.

Making the flow visible with the TPS, and doing things just-in-time so that stocks do not conceal problems, reveals options for continuous improvement. To cash in on these, you have to respect production workers and their ideas and knowledge. This completes the circle between the what (the TPS) and the how (the Toyota Way) in Lean.

Sources (besides books and links in the article):

  • Rojanette Coetzee, Liezl van Dyk, Karl Robert van der Merwe, (2018) "Towards addressing respect for people during lean implementation", International Journal of Lean Six Sigma
  • Ljungblom, M. and Lennerfors, T.T. (2021), "The Lean principle respect for people as respect for craftsmanship", International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, Vol. 12 No. 6, pp. 1209-1230.

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Arnout Orelio