Toyota Production System Applied to Software Development

Some of the most interesting insights into the Toyota Production System come from the experiences people have with implementing the TPS outside of manufacturing. Whether it is in schools, hospitals, or software development firms, the challenge of understanding and applying the principles of the Toyota Production System result in new perspectives on things that some of us old hands at TPS we think we already understand.
The story of Fujitsu Prime Soft Technologies Limited and how they applied the Toyota Production System to software development is related in the book Applied!! Toyota Production System to an IT Company 「実践!!IT屋のトヨタ生産方式」 published by Fubaisha.
Far more interesting than the details of the training they received or the Lean tools they applied to software development processes were the lessons learned related by the various kaizen instructors who were each leaders of the projects within Fujitsu. The chapters are written as first-person reflections on challenges with applying TPS during various stages, by different kaizen instructors from Fujitsu.
One of the valuable insights was stated simply as:
“Kaizen is getting rid of waste. Waste is what is abnormal. Think “this is abnormal”. Find abnormalities. Train your eyes to see abnormalities. People will not act unless there is an abnormality.”
Basic stuff, you may say, but how many of us train our eyes to see abnormalities?
There are many abnormalities surrounding you, if you only have eyes to see. As an example given in the book, if you buy a notebook for one dollar yen but you only use 30% of the space on each page to take notes, you have wasted 70 cents. The blank space on each page represents money you waste.
At one point the book asks:
“When you look at one thing, how many things do you notice?”
Standing in the Ohno circle is a good way to train your eyes to do see abnormalities and to find many small things to fix, some of them immediately, without the need for a kaizen team or Six Sigma project. This is the type of thinking that the team at Fujitsu used to apply the Toyota Production System to software development.
Another gem was how they overcame the resistance to applying TPS to software development. People asked, “Why the Toyota?” and the kaizen instructors would ask “If there is another way, please tell us. It is easy to deny another person’s idea. If you are going to deny it, you must present a different idea.” At least with regards to improving the software development process, nobody had any better ideas for how to improve, so they agreed to try TPS.
One of the kaizen leaders from Fujitsu also made an interesting distinction between kaizen and kaikaku. The popular term in Japan for what we might call a Lean transformation or a major business process redesign initiative is “kaikaku”. It literally means “reform” or “radical change”.
The Fujitsu kaizen instructor explained:
“While you can think of kaikaku as a large paradigm shift, it is over in an instance. Kaizen on the other hand is many continual changes you make daily. TPS is kaizen, not kaikaku, so there is no ending.”
In the West we often think of a Lean transformation or Lean deployment as a kaikaku. It is “done” at a certain point, and we begin to ask “How do we sustain this?” This is the wrong thinking and the wrong question. It is never done, only begun. There is no sustaining, only doing.

7 Comments

  1. bent Jensen

    August 9, 2007 - 11:54 am

    Interesting –
    Can you tell me where to get that book, if it is available in English?
    Mart & Tom Poppendieck also published two excellent books on applying Lean principles to Software Development.

  2. Aza Badurdeen

    November 27, 2007 - 1:37 am

    This is really interesting. I am a firm believer of application of lean in software
    context. In fact I have written few articles on lean
    software development
    .

    I am also waiting for this book to be in English

  3. Sally, software manager

    December 19, 2007 - 4:46 am

    Curious! I think that this book has English variant, in the Internet I didn’t find any, but I’m going to ask in the library.

  4. Robert

    May 29, 2008 - 9:05 am

    Just reading through your post catching up in reverse order. I’d like to voice a minor caveat to you waste example. Just because you only use 30% of a notebooks page does not mean the other 70% is wasted.
    Whitespaceisimportantifyoudontbelievethattryreadingthistext.
    Sometimes the space you leave is more important than what you use to fill the rest of the space. That has obvious parallels on the factory floor.
    Robert

  5. Ashant Chalasani

    December 15, 2009 - 11:32 pm

    I agree with Robert on the importance of white-space. But I don’t think it is contradictory to the concept of Kaizen. In this case, it would be important to identify that white-space belongs to your Gemba!