Deviations from Expectations; the Toyota Way?

Professor Takahiro Fujimoto from the University of Tokyo was recently interviewed for a Wharton publication on the Toyota problems; he is known as perhaps the world’s leading authority on the Toyota production system.  Professor Fujimoto spoke about deviation from expectations leading to Toyota’s problems and hubris of middle management as an underlying factor.

“I would probably say middle managers, particularly at headquarters, started to deviate from the Toyota Way by being arrogant, being overconfident, and also they started not to listen to the problems that customers raised.  Toyota is a problem-finding, problem-solving company.  This culture is still there in the factories and in product development centers.  But in some parts of the headquarters,  someone started to say,  “Hey, this is our problem.  I am responsible for finding my problems and solving my problems.  It’s not [for] you [outside Toyota] to find our problems.”

Sometimes I’m critical of Toyota.  But they get angry.  They always say, “We want to find problems.  So please, give us any clues on the problems you see.  “But if I actually say, “This is a problem for you,” they say, “This is none of your business.  We have to find the problem.  Not you.”  This attitude was growing for some time, I think, in some parts of headquarters.  That was very dangerous.  It is a good time to correct this kind of attitude and go back to the basics of the Toyota system.”

Dianne Vaughn’s work on the “normalization of deviance” was a major contribution to the NASA Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report.  Her contributions informed the Board’s deliberations on NASA’s organization system and its political and economic environment, as those factors affected decisions made about the foam debris problem.

Gary Klein’s work on decision making (see his most recent book “Streetlights and Shadows”) offers that “We put too much emphasis on reducing errors and not enough on building expertise.”

So my questions for today are:

  • Does your organization know how decisions are made?
  • Does your organization invest in developing decision making as an explicit individual and corporate competency?
  • Is hubris a part of your organizational culture and a substitute for true competency in decision making?

2 Responses to Deviations from Expectations; the Toyota Way?

  1. David says:

    Having worked at a Toyota supplier, I will offer a couple of thoughts on where Toyota may have gone astray. Most of Toyota’s current issues can be traced back to their initial manufacturing expansion in The United States. The first group of managers trained by Toyota are now executives, and the group that they trained are now in the middle management roles. These first two groups of management were heavily influenced by the expatriate Toyota employees sent to America to start up operations. Over the last 10 years especially, as Toyota expanded, this layer of expatriate support, was diluted to fill gaps as new plants opened and new vehicles entered their lineup. At many key plants and design centers, key concepts of TPS were simply not passed along to new hires.
    Professor Fujimoto said something that really resonates with me, and in light of the recent Toyota issues keeps coming back. Toyota IS a “problem finding, and problem solving company.” Several years ago the company I worked for came to the same conclusion I stated above. As a problem solving company themselves, they began getting “Back to Basics,” Training and retraining managers, engineers, and line workers on the basics of kaizen (continuous improvement), Genchi Genbutsu (“go and see for yourself”), and other key aspects of the Toyota Productions System. The automotive industry is interesting in that what you see today was designed and engineered probably more than 5 years ago; every feature, every technology you see is tested and retested, and after years of refinement, it finally makes it into a production vehicle. Five years ago my former employer, with strong encouragement from our Toyota friends, embarked on their “Back to Basics” campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Toyota’s quality improve drastically within the next year or two, not because of any action taken today, but because of the foundations they began laying 5 years ago. Toyota and my former employer had identified a problem and they were fixing it.
    Certainly these are not the only problems Toyota is faced with and by no means has Toyota found or fixed every problem, yet, but they are already developing their next group of decision makers in the model of Taiichi Ohno, Sakichi Shengo, and Eiji Toyoda

    -David Risley
    Project Enhancement Corporation

  2. wecarnes says:

    Thanks for joining in David!

    For our readers, David is the designer of our blog and the new WIKI on highly reliable performance. And he also has hands on experience in operations research. I’ll be introducing David to the EFCOG community at the June meetings of the ISM and HPI groups.

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