As a growing number of executives learn how to apply Toyota’s famous Lean principles and tools to improve quality and reduce costs, Toyota is making headlines. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the company had to suspend sales of different models this week, and will halt production at their five North American factories next week, for quality reasons (see, this article for more).
The moral of the WSJ story is strikingly simple: Toyota was trying to get too big, and changed too fast. In doing this, its leaders obviously abandoned some of the principles of continuous improvement which made the Toyota brand and its Lean production system (TPS) so famous. These principles are about establishing a highly specified working environment based on mature norms to minimize quality-control variables. For example, never build a new product in a new factory with new workers.
Does this mean that Lean creates barriers to change? The answer is yes, and this is good news. Abiding by your Lean principles can protect your organization from moving too fast and making potentially unsustainable, even damaging changes. True business process transformation initiatives based on Lean focus not only on zero-defects and no-waste targets, but also look at how people work and interact to make processes and services flow. This means that for any change you plan, you will need also to allocate time and resources to build the organization and develop the skills that support the desired state of maturity.