Book Review - The Toyota Way by Dr. Jeffrey Liker

 | March 14,2012 11:56 am IST

The Toyota Way describes the 14 principles that form the foundation of the uniquely successful management style called the lean production movement. Using profiles of a diverse group of organizations, from a variety of industries, it demonstrates how this model of success can be applied in any organization, to improve the quality, efficiency, and speed of any business process, including sales, product development, marketing, logistics, and management.

This blueprint of Toyotas management philosophy offers managers in blue-collar, white-collar, manufacturing, or service environments specific tools and methods for becoming the best in their industries on cost, quality, and service.


Well, no good purpose would be served by merely listing the 14 management principles, out of context. Liker devotes a separate chapter to each, carefully explaining not only what each of the 14 is but also how it guides and informs everyone at all levels and in all areas of the Toyota organization. What Liker also accomplishes, and what cannot be adequately summarized in a review such as this, is to explain how all 14 principles are interdependent. Together, they serve as the companys DNA. In the Preface, he recalls asking Fujio Cho (President of Toyota Motor Company) what was unique about his companys remarkable success.

 

His answer was quite simple: The key to the Toyota Way and what makes Toyota stand out is not any of the individual elementsBut what is important is having all the elements together as a system. It must be practiced every day in a very consistent manner. To understand Toyotas success, therefore, it is important to understand that lean production is not a methodology; it is literally a way of life.


The 14 principles are divided into four thematic categories:

Having a long-term philosophy that drives a long-term approach to building a learning organization
Absolute faith that the right process will produce the right results
Adding value to the organization by developing its people and partners
Continuously solving root problems to drive organizational learning


As Liker points out, it is important to understand that the Toyota Production System is not the Toyota Way. TPS is the most systematic and highly developed example of what the principles of the Toyota Way can accomplish. The Toyota Way consists of the foundational principles of the Toyota culture, which allows the TPS to function so effectively.


How does lean improvement differ from traditional process improvement? Briefly, whereas the traditional approach to process improvement focuses on local efficiencies, in a lean improvement initiative, most of the progress comes from a large number of non-value steps being squeezed out. For example, overproduction, delays and wasted motion. In fact, the ultimate goal of lean manufacturing is to apply the ideal of one-piece flow to all business operations, from product design to launch, order taking, physical production, and shipment. Some of the differences are subtle but no less significant.


To repeat, anyone can read this book and then understand what the Toyota Way is. Possessing a gourmet chefs recipe, however, does not ensure that a gourmet meal will be prepared. Toyota has its own way. Other companies must develop theirs based on their own roots. In other words, lead from their traditional strengths but not be limited by them. In fact, companies may need to re-invent themselves, not once but several times. That is what Toyota didand continues to do. Use operational excellence as a strategic weapon and the rewards and results will far outweigh the great effort required.


It remains for each person who reads this book to determine which of the 14 management principles are most relevant to her or his own enterprise, and then to determine how to translate each into effective action. Presumably Liker agrees with me that most companies have 3-5 areas in which lean initiatives are urgently needed. Developing an execution plan can be tricky, however, because all business transactions involve a process of some kind and improvement of one process inevitably has a direct impact on several others. Heres one possibility: Read the final chapter, Chapter 22, first. Its title is Build Your Own Lean Learning Enterprise, Borrowing from the Toyota Way. He thinks that will provide an appropriate framework within which to proceed from Gary Convis Foreword and Likers Preface to the conclusion of Chapter 21. That suggestion is worth consideration.


To sum it all, everyone in the auto industry is familiar with Toyotas dramatic business success and, of course, consumers are demonstrably aware of the companys world-renowned quality. In fact, Toyota has done so well that, as Liker points out, many consider the company to be boring. For, after all, steadily growing sales, consistent profitability, huge cash reserves, operational efficiency (combined with constant innovationnot an easy complement to pull off), and top quality, year after year, are not the stuff of breaking news. But, despite this reputation as the best manufacturer in the world, and despite the huge influence of the lean movement, most attempts to emulate and implement lean production have been fairly superficial, with less than stellar results over the long term. Dabbling at one levelthe Process level, U.S. companies have embraced lean tools, but do not understand what makes them work together in a system.

 

This integration is precisely what The Toyota Way examines, explaining how to create a Toyota-style culture of quality, lean, and learning that takes quantum leaps beyond any superficial focus on tools and techniques. Suffice it to say, there are hundreds of books out there explaining, analyzing, and advocating leanproviding details and insight into the tools and methods of TPS. The Toyota Way is, however (according to Liker), the first business book in English to provide a blueprint of Toyotas management philosophy for general business readers, dispelling the misconceptions that TPS is merely a collection of tools that lead to more efficient operations.

 

Of course, there is no way of ascertaining the validity of this claim, without an extensive and time consuming exploration of the literature, but that truly doesnt matter. The Toyota Way is an approach of such breadth, depth, and significance to the world of business that it has yet to be fully understood; thus, the subject has not yet been fully exhausted. Likers keen sense of the subtleties of TPS intrepidly challenges conventional understanding and transforms it with eloquent simplicity. He takes the reader deeply and comprehensively into the heart and intelligence of Toyotas way, giving businesses in diverse industries some very practical and effective ideas that they can use to develop their own unique approach to TPS.

 

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