Lean Manufacturing

Educating People is Key to Operational Excellence

By Jon Miller Updated on May 15th, 2017

TPS is a system of training. These are the words from an article by Toyota on the TPS. The source escapes me at the moment, if anyone knows of it please add a comment.
It’s my personal belief that the thing that sets Toyota apart from other excellent manufacturers is not that Toyota has the best operational excellence model in the world (the Toyota Production System) but that it has a tradition of educating people in their organization that is rooted in their belief system that values monozukuri and long-term thinking. Copying the Toyota Production System is easy. Copying this commitment to developing people is hard.
First it would require a generation of managers and supervisors who are willing and able to be teachers. It may take 5 to 10 years for most companies to develop a generation of managers as teachers. It is not possible to hire all new manager-teachers, since these managers would spend the first five years learning-developing-building the teaching culture from scratch anyway. Not to mention that they would still need to run the business.
Teruyuki Minoura, a Toyota executive who is Senior Managing Director, Chief Officer of Business Development Group & Purchasing Group, sums up that the role of educating people is key to operational excellence in an article on the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky website.
When an error occurs, the first thing that needs to be done is fix the error. Minoura recalls that Ohno used to order them to ask the question “Why?” five times over because “that way you’ll find the root cause, and if you get rid of that it’ll never happen again.” However, Minoura emphasizes that on-the-spot observation rather than deduction is the only correct way to answer a “Why?” question. “I’m always struck that the five-why method doesn’t seem to be working as well as it should be because there’s been a lack of practical training. The reason is that they end up falling back on deduction. Yes, deduction. So when I ask them ‘Why?’ they reel off five causes as quick as a flash by deduction. Then I ask them five whys again for each of the causes they came up with. The result is that they start falling back on deduction again, and so many causes come back that you end up totally confused as to which of them is important.”
“Through real training,” Minoura says, “you’ll be able to discover dozens of problems and also get to their root causes. You’ll be able to make dozens of improvements. If you incorporate all the accumulated knowledge of root causes that you’ve got from always asking ‘Why? Why? Why? …’ into your equipment, you’re going to have something that no one else can come close to. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with nationality; it all has to do with whether or not you’ve received the proper training. I feel though that the tendency to give that kind of training and education forms the basis of Toyota’s approach to monozukuri.”

Monozukuri is the Japanese word for “making things”. It could be translated as “manufacturing” but it is not, as monozukuri brings with it a respect and appreciation for the act of making things that “manufacturing” has largely lost.
At Toyota there is an education program for people that starts at year one and includes not only the job-specific knowledge and skills but what it means to think like a Toyota person. This not only includes kaizen, but the philosophy behind how you make improvements (quick and dirty instead of delayed perfection, etc.). A previous post on this blog gives an example of this new employee training in the Toyota Way.
If more organizations educated their people in the basic philosophy of kaizen and TPS (never mind the specific tools) they would have people who see the vast improvement opportunities or “buried treasure” in every gemba.
Educating people in the workplace as part of an operational excellence strategy is more than teaching the production system or the techniques to make improvements. It is also creating a fighting spirit that does not give up when faced with a difficult challenge. Perhaps this is best summed up in a quote by writer and college administrator William Arthur Ward “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

  1. Mark Graban

    October 24, 2006 - 4:28 pm

    I’ve heard Minoura call TPS the “Thinking Production System.” Great post, Jon.

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