Toyota’s Lean Quality Management Principles (Part I)

Our current series of Collegiate Chapter columns on Quality Management would not be complete without discussing Toyota’s Quality Management Principles.

Quality management experts generally agree that Toyota’s Lean Production System represents a landmark development in manufacturing and service industries. Dr. Jeffrey Liker has been studying Toyota for more than 20 years and completed a book called, The Toyota Way. In his book he explains how the production system at Toyota has developed into a model of industrial excellence and discusses how many different kinds of companies are using Toyota’s methods to improve quality and performance.

The Toyota methods go well beyond the automotive industry as Dr. Liker gives examples of applications in aluminum gutters, ship construction and repair and service parts warehousing. The Toyota Lean Production System is equally applicable to any graphic communications operation.

Based upon his research at Toyota, Dr. Liker discusses the 14 principles of the Toyota-style of culture in his book. These 14 principles will be summarized here and in the next installment of Collegiate Chapter.

1. “Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.” According to Liker, this philosophical value should out weigh any other short-term goal. The key is to align the entire organization in one direction, toward one common purpose. By understanding how the company takes its place in history, the efficient leader can than bring the company to the next level.

“Generate value for the customer, society, and the economy—it is your starting pint. Evaluate every function in the company in terms of its ability to achieve this. Accept responsibility for your conduct and maintain and improve the skills that will enable you to produce added value,” states Liker.

2. “Create continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface.” Work processes should be redesigned in order to accomplish high-value added continuous flow. The goal here is to eliminate any time that a project sits idle waiting for someone to perform an operation on it. The production flow should move materials and information quickly and connect all involved together so that any problems can be recognized right away, explains Liker. This is a key part of establishing continuous process improvement as well as an important part of developing people.

3. “Use ‘pull’ systems to avoid overproduction.” A ‘pull’ system is at the heart of just-in-time production. The goal, according to Liker is, “to provide your downline customers in the production process with what they want, when they want it, and in the amount they want.” The key here is to minimize inventory levels, those with respect to work in progress as well as those items warehoused and restocked after customer orders. A pull system is designed to be flexible and able to respond to fluctuating customer demands, thereby working to eliminate needless inventory which is considered extremely wasteful in lean production methods.

4. “Level out the workload. (Work like the tortoise, not the hare.)”
Lean production methods strive to remove pressures from people and equipment by eliminating the variations in production schedules. Liker explains that the challenge here is to, “work to level our the workload of all manufacturing and service processes as an alternative to the stop/start approach of working on projects in batches that is typical at most companies.”

5. “Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right for the first time.” Toyota’s lean production system emphasizes the importance of removing the variability from the process so that consistent quality can be delivered to the customer, which is the heart of any quality assurance program. Liker discusses the need to use all of the modern quality assurance methods that are available. He states, “build into your equipment the capability of detecting problems and stopping itself. Build into your organization support systems to quickly solve problems and put in place countermeasures. Build into your culture the philosophy of stopping or slowing down to get quality right the first time to enhance productivity in the long run.”

6. “Standardized tasks are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.” In lean production, the goal is to work toward developing procedures that are stable and repeatable, thereby helping to maintain predictability as well as consistent timing and output of the production process. Liker explains that this is a fundamental part of establishing an efficient flow and pull system. He states that one should, “Capture the accumulated learning about a process up to a point in time by standardizing today’s best practices.

For example, those graphic communications operations with the most efficient press makereadies have established standardized procedures throughout the plant for makereading a press.

7. “Use visual control so no problems are hidden.” The Toyota Way favors the use of simple visual indicators as to whether a process is operating in standard condition or drifting away from it. Simple visual indicators support the flow and pull process. It is also recommended that the use of computer screens in many instances might distract the worker’s focus from the workplace and that in this instance a non-computer board (e.g. magnetic loading/scheduling system) would be preferable.

Liker states that the Toyota Way also recommends that reports be reduced to one piece of paper whenever possible—even when addressing important financial decisions.

(To be continued.)

Greg D’Amico is a member of the faculty and coordinator of the undergraduate program in graphic communications at Kean University, Union, N.J., and the author of Customer-Centered Production, published by NAPL, now in its second edition.