How Toyota Used IT to Cut New Product Development Time in Half

This is a follow up to a previous post on How Toyota Uses Information Technology (IT) for Kaizen based on an interview with Toyota CIO Amano in the Nikkei BP magazine. This one is titled The Role of the CIO is to Change the Way We Work by Sharing Information – Using IT to Cut Time to Develop New Automobiles in Half. Like many things with Lean manufacturing, it sounds awfully simple:
“I think an important role of the CIO is to use computers and information as weapons to transcend departmental boundaries and make work flow more smoothly.
Information on paper is only visible to the person who has the paper, but with IT everyone can see the same information. The ability of people around the world to communicate based on the same shared data is the key advantage of IT over paper.
Toyota has been focusing on speeding the development cycle for new automobiles. What used to take four years has been cut by half or even to one-fourth. The voice of the departments using IT was that “four years seems too long”, and IT was able to answer the call effectively.
For example, traditionally one designer would finish their work and hand off their design to the next person. From working sequentially we were able to change our design approach to a collaborative work style where many people could work in parallel.
The change in work style resulted in a shorter design cycle. This would not have been possible without IT. For instance working in parallel means allowing someone in purchasing to calculate the purchase pricing for the new part, and someone in logistics to plan optimal delivery system based on the shape of the new part, while the new part was still being designed. This required an IT system that allowed all of them to see the same information at the same time.
A ‘common language’ is needed in order to share information effectively. We implemented a new CAD (computer aided design) tool to allow this. We also structure a common BOM (bill of materials, which also includes assembly methods and a code system). Previously the BOMs used in each region were created based on the special characteristics of each region but this did not allow for a common language for each regional operation to work together. We emphasized using IT as a basis to develop a ‘common language’ for working together.”

This is a great example of deciding first what your work style (process) needs to look like to achieve your business goals and then implementing an IT system that conforms to that process, rather than the other way around where the process is conformed to the information technology based or some “best practice” dreamed up by consultants, as is too often the case.