Building in Quality in a Services Environment

You can extend Toyota Way Principle 4: Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first time to the office environment. Of course you are not going to hang andon lights over everyone’s desk so they can signal in case there is a problem. Clearly the tool of andon as it is practiced in manufacturing is designed for very short-cycle, repetitive jobs where immediate help is needed and seconds count. This is the case with some highly repetitive office work, like call centers or data entry departments, and the same tools could be applied. But most kinds of office environments are non-routine work where “stop when there is a quality problem” is a matter of philosophy and personal work habits. In a typical office environment, a person waits and waits for information in order to move along several piles of work in process and then, when the information arrives, often has to sprint madly to meet deadlines, making numerous errors and missing important details along the way. Obviously, this “system” of work needs a different quality model.

Toyota engineering provides one of the better examples of designing in quality within a professional services environment. For example, the extensive use of checklists and standards that will be discussed in ‘Standardized Tasks Are the Foundation for Continuous Improvement and Employee Empowerment’ is one way to ensure quality at the source. Also, Toyota’s bias toward incremental development—carrying over standard components from vehicle to vehicle and focusing on changing selected aspects of the vehicle—also helps greatly. There are many things that Toyota does that help ensure quality from the start. We will highlight two other areas that illustrate the jidoka philosophy in engineering.

First, we saw in the Prius case that at several key junctures in the program the chief engineer was willing to stop and reflect and consider all options (Toyota Way Principle 13) before racing ahead. This was a program of enormous visibility within Toyota and, later, with the public, and the self-imposed deadlines were severe. Timing was of the essence. Yet in the early stages of developing the Prius concept, Uchiyamada saw the team getting bogged down in specific technical details on engine technology. He asked the group to “stop focusing on hardware.” The team stepped back and spent several days brainstorming key concepts to describe the 21st-century car and boiling them down to the goal of a “small, fuel-efficient car.” Several times throughout the Prius development, Uchiyamada took a “time-out” from the development details to step back and consider where the program was headed.

When my colleagues and students and I originally studied Toyota’s product development system, we called it “set-based concurrent engineering” (Ward, Liker, Cristiano, and Sobek, 1995). We noticed that Toyota leaders tended to consider a broad set of alternatives and study them thoroughly before making a final decision. Several leaders explained that the biggest challenge they faced in training young engineers is to slow them down and get them to stop and reflect on all the alternatives they should consider. This is an example of stopping and fixing the problem before racing ahead and causing defects downstream.

A second and related example is in the early stages of development, before the styling department has agreed on the final vehicle design—called “clay-model freeze” in automotive jargon. In traditional auto companies, development engineers think there is nothing to engineer until styling completes the design, because the engineering work would be wasted since key parts of the vehicle could change. Toyota views this time as an opportunity to study alternatives and have them ready to go when the styling design is frozen. It is called the kentou (study drawing) phase and the focus in this period is generating hundreds of study drawings, called kentouzu.

While the artist is styling in the design studios, engineers are studying many different engineering alternatives in the interior of the car, the exterior, and the engine. They know pretty closely what the main dimensions of the vehicle will be and have made a lot of decisions about aerodynamics, power, and feel of the ride. So they can sketch out these alternatives and share the sketches broadly across specialties. For example, the 2002 Camry headlights were aggressively designed, extending deeply back and cutting into the hood and fender. Body engineers made sketches and determined, based on the checklists of formability in stamping, that it could lead to stamped metal parts that would have quality problems. They suggested to the styling department a redesign of the headlights to avoid the quality problems yet provide the look that styling wanted. Styling approved the changes. Thus, a quality problem that might have haunted manufacturing for years, or even haunted customers several years after they took ownership, was avoided because of this intense study period to design quality into the vehicle very early in the design process.