Gary Convis on the Role of Management in Lean Manufacturing

Gary Convis is the Chairman of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky and also serves in Officer roles for Toyota’s North American holding companies. Gary Convis helped start up NUMMI, and he was the first American President of a vehicle plant at TMMK. He is someone who we should listen to when he givea advice on the role of management in a Lean manufacturing. In an August 2001 article in the “Learning to think lean” section of the SAE International website, he writes:

I will describe what it was like to transplant this philosophy to American soil, in hopes that anyone attempting to change the culture of an existing plant towards “lean manufacturing” can benefit from my experience and observations.

Here is a summary of key points to successful implementation of the Toyota Production System explained in the article by Gary Convis:

Total commitment. All levels of the organization, from team members to the senior managers, must be aware of the fundamentals of TPS and make their best efforts to practice TPS and do kaizen every day.

Full commitment to the “customer-first” philosophy. The TPS definition of customer is not only the end customer but every person and process downstream, so in essence this is putting others first.

No artificial barriers between departments. The entire organization must expose and share problems, working towards solutions together.

Aggressively seek to solve problems. All managers must take an “all hands on deck” approach to problem solving, helping solve problems even outside of their area.

Human development. is at the very core of TPS. It is often overlooked, as people seize on the more tangible aspects of TPS. Engineers are particularly likely to latch on to tools like kanban, heijunka, and jidoka, and think they have captured the essence of TPS.

Management must go to gemba. This focus on the shop-floor (or value adding location) means actively helping people on the gemba succeed at their jobs rather than just going there and telling people what to do.

Gary Convis likens the Toyota Production System to a triangle with technology, management, and philosophy as the three sides with people in the middle. He links the most common road block to successful Toyota Production System implementation to the failure to see the whole.

He observes that Lean implementations struggle because of failures by senior management to understand TPS as a comprehensive approach to manufacturing and management, and due to partial implementation of elements of TPS instead of taking an integrated approach. Gary Convis makes the analogy to a green house, where the right amount of light, humidity, soil pH, temperature, etc. are all important for the plants to thrive.

Gary Convis recalls Kan Higahsi, his mentor at NUMMI, telling him his greatest challenge would be “to lead the organization as if I had no power” and that he must shape the organization by example through coaching, understanding and helping others to achieve their goals. He concludes:

Management has no more critical role than motivating and engaging large numbers of people to work together toward a common goal. Defining and explaining what that goal is, sharing a path to achieving it, motivating people to take the journey with you, and assisting them by removing obstacles – these are management’s reason for being.

The full article is about three pages long. It is worth reading and forwarding to others in your organization who are learning about the role of management in a Lean manufacturing environment.