LeanSix SigmaToyota

Does Toyota need Six Sigma?

By Ron Pereira Updated on May 23rd, 2007

I bet the title of this post caught some of my Lean friends off guard.  Fear not I am not going to talk about how Lean is about eliminating waste and Six Sigma is about reducing variation.  I have said this before and regret it.  These are stupid statements and when someone says them you should smack them in the mouth.  Someone should have smacked me in the mouth when I said them in the past.  OK, so don’t actually smack them… that would not be too respectful.

With this said, there are times when I feel like a Toyota apologist.  You know acting as if Toyota is infallible.  Toyota is not infallible and after reading Jon Miller’s recent post: Toyota Number One in the World… in Recalls this was even more clear.

I am DEFINITELY not proposing Toyota run off and hire the hottest Six Sigma consulting firm and deploy Black Belts all over the world.  I am not even proposing they use the words “Six Sigma” at all.  Instead, I am just curious what would happen if a team of Toyota employees looked at some of their most recent quality issues with new eyes.

When I say new eyes I am not proposing “Lean” or “TPS” eyes are inferior to “Six Sigma” or “Deming” eyes.  But let’s be honest here… when was the last time you read about Toyota using Response Surface Methodology or Monte Carlo simulation?  Perhaps they do and this is just not written about. 

Six Sigma works when it is used the right way and for the right reason.  In fact, if someone claims otherwise they are just ignorant.  And guess what… TPS works when it is used the right way and for the right reason and if someone claims otherwise they are just ignorant.

But as I have tried to promote with this simple little blog of mine… TPS and Six Sigma are different.  Yes, they both attack problems, waste, variation, defects, etc.  But Six Sigma attempts to look at these problems in a slightly different manner and sometimes, without a doubt, is the best methodology for the job.

The problems with the bastardization of Six Sigma are many.  But at its core Six Sigma is amazing and borders on magic.  It is far more than creating a few process maps and calculating Cp and Cpk as so many sadly think.

I wonder if Toyota is willing to give this magic a shot.  We hear about President Watanabe wanting to focus on quality.  Don’t get me wrong the 5 Why’s and PDCA work.  But I would love to see Toyota add some more artillery to their guns as they press on and  confront these serious issues.

What do you think?

  1. rob

    May 27, 2007 - 9:35 am

    Well said Ron. I must admit to that coming from a quality background I tend to look at sources of variation, in processes, systems, methods, materials, measurements, people, etc first, even before I think about “waste”. Perhaps I’m wrong in doing this but to me eliminating waste on a chronically unstable process will potentially cause more problems then it solves. Stabilise first – perhaps I’m wrong?


  2. Kentoki

    September 18, 2008 - 12:57 pm

    Well if Toyota is a leader company and have never used Six Sigma and other companies less productive than them uses it, i think they don’t have a truly reason to change their methods.
    Six Sigma methodology probably does not match with their culture and because of that they don’t use it.

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