A Great Deal of Learning up Front Makes for Easier Decision Making

April 28, 2009 - Tags:

Andy Lund, program manager for the 2004 Toyota Sienna, explained to me why he always uses nemawashi when he is making decisions and preparing to present his recommendations:

For some decisions I may think I already know the answer and do not need input from others. There may be a department that is not directly involved and I think they probably do not have much to contribute. I may in fact find the right answers on my own, but I will have a hard time presenting it because the group I skipped will challenge my recommendations and ask why I did not consider this and that and the presentation will become a debate. But through nemawashi they will agree with the presentation because they have already agreed with it. So I will go and talk to that department in advance anyway and generally I am pleasantly surprised because I get new information.

By going through lengthy and thorough information gathering and analysis in decision making, what does Toyota achieve?

  1. It uncovers all the facts that, if not considered, could lead to a great deal of pain and backtracking further down the road. Execution tends to be flawless by most standards.
  2. It gets all the parties on board and supporting the decision so any resistance is worked out before implementing anything. The cost of addressing this resistance when implementation begins is likely to be many times the cost of addressing it in the planning stage. Dick Mallery could not believe that every concerned party, even Toyota’s opponents, ended up thanking Toyota for solving their problems.
  3. It achieves a great deal of learning up front before anything is even planned or implemented.

The last point leads us to the Become a Learning Organization Through Relentless Reflection (Hansei) and Continuous Improvement (Kaizen) and the final Toyota Way principle, which focuses on Toyota’s greatest accomplishment—becoming a true learning organization. We will see that the Problem-Solving layer of the 4P model  is actually intertwined with the other three layers: Process, Partners, and Philosophy. We already saw in this chapter that we could not really understand nemawashi without understanding genchi genbutsu and the Deming cycle of problem solving. In fact, new employees cannot learn even a seemingly simple tool like an A3 report without first understanding these three processes.