Field Report from Gemba Tour #62, Part 3

By Jon Miller Updated on May 17th, 2017

Today was the Toyota plant tour day of our Japan Kaikaku Experience #62. I noticed a lot more things made of Creform, both inside and outside of the factory. Outside there was a bizarre blue trellis for vines to grow on, a conspicuous frame for planters and flower pots, and an ineffective railing to delineate walking are from road. I half expected to see someone ride up on a bicycle made up of tube and joint. Perhaps these are efforts to keep workers busy as the demand for automobiles drives takt time up from 55 to 89 seconds.

A phrase in Japanese 正直が一番 (shojiki ga ichiban) or “Honesty is best.” In English we say “Honesty is the best policy” and I have found this to be true. These signs were printed in blue ink on white placards hung up on the rest areas located beside the assembly lines. I also spotted a laminated card on the site’s safety policy reading “1. Safety and humanity, 2. Honesty is best, 3. Zero is possible”. We asked whether Toyota were having trouble with dishonesty and they explained that this is to encourage people to call attention to unsafe conditions or problems. Even after decades of having the andon system in place, each new generation of workers needs to hear this message anew.

After the tour we had a wonderful two-hour question and answer session with a former Toyota plant manager who shared his 40 years of experience and insight. The main message was “keep on shoring up the foundations.” The foundation is 5S, the setting and following of rules, genchi genbutsu, in other words the easy stuff (right?). This message resonated, particularly in light of the “honesty is the best policy” placards.

After the Q&A we spent some time at the Toyota exhibition center where they had upgraded their displays on the Toyota Production System. Here is a walk through the history of TPS, in photos:

Toyota Plant in Its Early Days

Kanban System Circa 1953


All I Want for Christmas: the 1964 Toyota Sport 800


Managers Begin Jishuken Activities from 1973


Andon System Circa 1981


Taiichi Ohno Awarded Medal from Japanese Government


Taiichi Ohno Awarded Honorary Doctorate from University of Alabama


A Diorama of the Assembly Line Circa 2008

Honesty, rules, cleanliness, safety, quality: all you need to know are in a few simple words.
And kudos to Alabama for demonstrating foresight and good judgment in making Taiichi Ohno an honorary professor of production systems in 1991.

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