Dr. Jeff Liker celebrated author and authority on Toyota and the Toyota Production System was my guest on the Business901 podcast and we discussed his upcoming book, The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement (Book release date is May 13th, I have pre-ordered mine).
Dr. Liker in comparing Lean and Six Sigma:
Sometimes, I’ve heard people say Six Sigma is more sophisticated, and it’s like the graduate school for the tougher problems that require advanced statistics; and Lean is more common sense and practical, and more quick and dirty. That’s not the way I look at it at all. But the tool that you see with Lean is something like the Kanban system. You have a card and you write information, and you decide what the maximum and minimum is. When you reach the minimum, you send the card. That’s a very simple production and inventory control system compared to a linear program that is on the computer; you put in all sorts of data and you optimize the schedule.
Here, you’ve got these cards, and people are just counting cards, and it seems very primitive. But the reason why these tools are so simple is because Toyota wants the people who are actually doing the work to see the problems as they occur. They want them to solve them in real-time, one by one, as they come up, instead of allowing problems to accumulate, and then, perhaps once a year, once in three years, do a big, deep dive project and you’re basically trying to solve three years of accumulated problems.
So the tools and techniques are intentionally very simple, a trend chart, not regression analysis.
Admittedly, there may be some loss of precision, because we don’t know if it’s statistically significant or not, but what we’re doing is lots and lots of little problem?solving cycles, and we’re learning by direct observation. Because you can see it and touch it, people who are actively engaged at the workplace can understand it.
So it’s by definition the tools are very visual and very easy to understand.
And Dr. Liker went on to say:
So, we’re constantly looking for the next thing without realizing that we already had it to begin with, whether it was total quality management or a continuous program or A3s or DMAIC, whatever it was. The underlying PDCA concept was there to begin with, but we didn’t continue.
We didn’t have what Deming called “Stability of purpose,” and we focused on the tool and deploying the tool instead of developing the culture, so that PDCA became a way of thinking and a way of living rather than a program.
Professor Liker is the author of The Toyota Way Fieldbook which is one my favorite and most quoted books. His most recent work, Toyota Under Fire a 2011 Shingo Prize Winner, takes you beyond the headlines and into the offices and factories of Toyota to reveal the truth behind the company’s highly publicized and controversial recall of over 10 million vehicles.
Professor Liker’s Company Website: Optiprise
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