Problem Solving the Toyota Way

Table of Contents

More Than Solving Problems

The Toyota Way seeks to identify and remove obstacles on the path to perfection. This philosophy is rooted in the Japanese cultural desire to seek perfection in every activity. As we discussed earlier in the book, the Toyota Way is a cyclical process of achieving stability, standardizing practices, and then continually squeezing the process in order to expose the obstacles (seen as system weakness). Human beings tend to seek comfort and avoid discomfort. The Toyota Way is not a natural behavior. The Toyota philosophy relies on the “system,” and adhering to its concepts will force people supporting the system into uncomfortable situations. The choices presented then are to either remove the obstacles or to fail. For this reason, possessing the skills of solving problems and the ability to continuously improve are crucial to survival.

This process serves as the framework for most other aspects of the Toyota Production System (TPS) and its product development system, and is largely responsible for Toyota’s tremendous success. Toyota can generate greater results, with less effort, in a shorter period of time, more consistently than any of its competitors. This process provides a structure to align resources effectively, to ensure mutual understanding of the significance of the issue, to clearly outline the necessity and benefit of resolving the issue, and, with a high degree of accuracy, to predict the actual result.

The problem-solving methodology is a skill that runs deep and strong at all levels of the organization within Toyota and across all functions, from manufacturing to purchasing to sales and the rest of Toyota. The basic method is learned in training classes, but the real learning comes from daily practical application, continued use, and evaluation by others in the organization. Technically, the methodology is fairly simple and does not require complex statistical analysis tools. Because of it’s simplicity the method can be embraced and executed by all Toyota personnel regardless of education or previous experience. Toyota uses advanced statistical analysis in certain situations, but the day-to-day use of problem-solving is straightforward. This method may appear too simplistic to individuals trained as Black Belts in the Six Sigma process, but there is an elegant beauty to it. For one thing, the issues encountered by most associates on a daily basis require only basic analytical skills. More complex techniques are unnecessary and often confuse people who have a problem but are not trained in the methods. In addition, the process at Toyota can be applied rapidly, while Six Sigma and other similar processes tend to be lengthy and laborious.

This process may occur in a very short time frame (less than one minute) or may take months or even years. From the moment an operator discovers a problem on the line and signals the need for support (by pulling the andon cord, as described in Chapter 8), until the problem is controlled and corrected, may be less than one minute. At the other end of the spectrum is long-term strategy development, preparing a new product launch, process improvement, and policy deployment.

Calling this process “problem solving” may be a misnomer, since the process goes well beyond the basics of solving problems. This method encompasses a critical and logical thinking process. It requires thorough evaluation and reflection (genchi genbutsu and hansei), careful consideration of various options, and a carefully considered course of action, all leading toward measurable and sustainable goals.

With repeated use and practice, this process becomes second nature and is used in virtually every situation in which improvement is desired, when new or modified processes are added, and even as a framework for the development of a lean implementation process. Here are just a few of the situations for which this process can be used:

  • Correcting weakness in skill levels and development of a training plan
  • Purchasing new equipment
  • Cost reduction activities
  • Team improvement activities (Quality Circles, kaizen events)
  • Improving productivity and process flow
  • Annual planning and strategy development

Every Problem Is an Improvement Opportunity

The inverse of a problem is an opportunity. This has become a cliché and often means we don’t want to deal with the fact that we have problems. It becomes real only when the organizational culture focuses on continuous improvement. Within all organizations, including Toyota, there is a virtually endless supply of problems, and thus opportunities. We may also commonly refer to these problems as “issues,” and they fall into three broad categories: Large, Medium, and Small (Figure 13-1).

Many organizations fail to develop an effective process for capturing opportunity from all three categories. Quite often the Small category is overlooked entirely because these opportunities are viewed as “insignificant” or offering “not enough bang for the buck.” In addition, the Medium and Large categories are not fully exploited due to the small number of people being trained or qualified to resolve issues (Figure 13-2). In this structure, the primary impetus for improvement is management-directed and management-controlled. In this case change occurs from outside the process. This continues to foster the traditional we/they thinking, which implies that only management or specific individuals are responsible for improvement, and that the workers wait for “them” to correct issues. Individual efforts are not encouraged for various reasons, but primarily because there is no structure in place to support them and because managers fear a loss of control.

Figure 13-1. Typical quantities of opportunities available

Figure 13-2. Opportunities captured by typical companies

Also, in most organizations problems are not viewed as opportunities for improvement, but as failures, and thus are hidden rather than addressed.

Toyota is able to maximize its performance using two tactics:

  1. Every employee is trained and encouraged to use the process daily, thus achieving tremendous leverage from the combined efforts of many problem solvers each making frequent, small, continuous improvements. This contrasts with many U.S. companies, where select individuals (such as engineers, or Black Belts) are trained and designated to solve problems; often with little or no input from those actually closest to the process.
  2. Resources are utilized to address problems across all three levels, and the efforts can be focused, thus applying greater leverage and multiplying the results. The problem-solving process requires evaluation and comparison of issues, allowing people to focus efforts on the most significant items. In this way, a smaller amount of focused effort produces greater results by attacking the larger opportunities. In addition, individuals are able to focus efforts on the smaller items they control and that directly affect them. Toyota applies the 80/20 rule by effectively focusing 80 percent of their energy on the 20 percent of problems that will yield 80 percent of the total benefit.

The Toyota Way divides the categories and utilizes the resources appropriately for all three levels. Larger issues are generally addressed through managementdirected and management-controlled activities such as Management Kaizen Training [also referred to as Practical Kaizen Training, or jishuken activities (Figure 13-3)]. It is also management’s responsibility to establish expectations for the organization, to identify weak points in the system, and to apply the appropriate resources. Mid-level opportunities are generally initiated by the supervisor, the team, or by an individual. These items may be based on overall company objectives for improvement or on issues of particular challenge to the group affected. Finally, Toyota is able to capture a huge opportunity by facilitating the individual efforts toward improvement. The individual or small team nearly always initiates these efforts. Each person understands the process of continuous improvement and pursues that objective in his or her daily activities.

In fact, continuous improvement is so important that changes to processes are made up to the last day of production in a product cycle. This seems paradoxical until it is understood that the idea of continuous improvement truly means continuous—never ending. If people believe that improvements are only desired under the “correct” conditions, they will, in effect, not make improvements because the conditions may never be correct. We’ve often heard people state that a product or process will “go away” in six months, so it is not practical to spend time and money improving it. The Toyota Way suggests that a small improvement with minor effort yielding perhaps one second of time or one cent per piece saved over the six-month period is, in fact, a practical idea. It facilitates the idea that improvement must occur at all times at all levels by all individuals. Any rules suggesting appropriate times and conditions for improvement will kill the spirit of continuous improvement.

Management Kaizen

Cross-functional Team

Quality Circle



Small Team

Individual Daily Kaizen

Figure 13-3. Toyota leverages opportunities at all levels

In addition, Toyota teaches basic problem-solving skills to all employees so that everyone becomes a problem solver. With thousands of people solving problems on a daily basis, Toyota can effectively leverage its people resource. For most issues encountered daily, the basic methods are sufficient. More complex techniques are unnecessary and often confuse people dealing directly with the problem. Problems of a more complex nature require a higher degree of skill, and members of management are trained via Management Kaizen events. The case at the end of this chapter on the Toyota Georgetown, Kentucky Plant illustrates the breadth and depth of kaizen activities across the organization.

Tables 13-1 through 13-3 summarize the characteristics of the three levels of issues, the typical scope of the specific issue, examples of each, and implementation methods.

Issue Typical Scope Examples Implementation Process
Large issues, low quantity, high complexity and difficulty Issues that effect the entire organization, plant, or department • Annual planning

• New model launch

• Interdepartmental issues

• Product development

• Management kaizen training

• Cross-functional teams

• Department/Plant management

• Initiated and supported by plant management

Table 13-1. Toyota Approach to Large Issues

Issue Typical Scope Examples Implementation Process
Medium-size issues, moderate to high quantity, medium complexity and difficulty Issues similar to typical Six Sigma projects or kaizen events. May affect the group or department. • Development of new processes

• Procurement of new equipment

• Significant safety, quality, production, or cost issues

• Departmental, crossfunctional team (production, maintenance, engineering)

• Intergroup team (members of same group)

• Quality Circles

• Small teams or individuals

• Supported by supervisor or department manager

• Possible payment award through the suggestion program

Table 13-2. Toyota Approach to Medium Issues

Issue Typical Scope Examples Implementation Process
Small-size issues, virtually unlimited quantity, low difficulty to resolve Issues that appear repeatedly throughout the day. May cause small amounts of waste every cycle. Range in opportunity from very small to fairly significant. • Elimination of minor issues and waste

• Small continuous improvement such as 5S, visual factory, or improvement of standardized work

• Andon process to stop the line and fix problems immediately

• Primarily an individual effort

• May be a joint effort or small team

• Generally initiated by individuals or small teams

• Supported largely by direct supervisor

• Payment award and implementation through the suggestion program

Table 13-3. Toyota Approach to Small Issues

Telling the Problem-Solving Story

Toyota associates learn that the problem-solving process is like telling a story. Every good story has an introduction or lead-in, character development and substance in the middle, a conclusion, and perhaps a hint of a sequel . The problem-solving process has distinct chapters or steps. And like a good story, a good problem-solving process will flow smoothly between each step, with a clear connection from one to the other. The completion of one step will lead to the next step, and there will be no break in the continuity. Here are the “chapters” of the problem-solving story:

Develop a thorough understanding of the current situation and define the problem.

Complete a thorough root cause analysis.

Thoroughly consider alternative solutions while building consensus.

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA):

  • Plan: Develop an action plan
  • Do: Implement solutions rapidly
  • Check: Verify result
  • Act: Make necessary adjustments to solutions and action plan and determine future steps

Reflect and learn from the process.

There may be additional information contained in the story, but it will generally fall under one of these categories. As with good stories, each problem-solving process is somewhat different, but overall, the basic structure of the process is the same.

In Chapters 14 through 17, we’ll go into detail about each chapter of the problem-solving story and developing a thorough understanding of PDCA. You will notice that Chapter 14, which focuses on understanding the current situation and defining the problem, is the longest, and subsequent chapters get shorter. This reflects the importance and level of effort in each of these phases. Getting the problem right is the most important and should be where most of the effort is made, since doing a great job of solving the wrong problem has little longterm impact. Yet in most problem-solving activities we have noticed, people are more than happy to accept a superficial definition of the problem and launch into brainstorming solutions. This brainstorming is the fun and exciting part, so we want to get to that quickly, but it’s also the easiest part. Toyota’s practical problem-solving methodology is a disciplined process and does not always come naturally. It requires stepping back and thinking deeply before charging into solutions and implementation.

Case Study: Kaizen at the Toyota Georgetown Plant

Toyota’s first wholly owned assembly plant outside of Japan in Georgetown, Kentucky originally built only the Camry and has expanded greatly. This plant became the site of thousands of pilgrimages to see true TPS right here in our own backyard. The plant from the start began racking up J.D. Power awards that hang from the rafters, practically hiding the ceiling.

Georgetown started out as a large site, building engines, stamping, welding, painting, molding plastic bumpers and instrument panels, and assembling cars. It grew quickly as the Avalon and Sienna minivan were added, then the minivan was moved out and the Solara coupe was moved in. Through volume changes, model changes, equipment changes (e.g., a completely new body shop), and growth, it has been a busy place with little time to catch a breath. Combined with the fact that it is a favorite recruiting ground for companies that want to hire away Toyota-trained employees, it has been a challenge to maintain the lofty expectations of the plant. By 2004 the site was up to 7,800 employees, which managers felt was beyond the size where communication is truly effective. They had to switch from thinking of it as a town to thinking of it as a big city with a lot of little neighborhoods.

The growth and losing managers led to tremendous pressure by 2000, as the J.D. Power awards became few and far between and cost pressure from the low-wage countries China and Korea pushed the plant into radical kaizen. While kaizen was part of the culture of the plant, they were used to continuous problem solving punctuated by the big changes associated with model launches and new equipment. The new competitive challenge required kaikaku (radical kaizen). Added to this was the pressure of becoming self-sufficient, since Toyota in Japan was spread thin, supporting plants throughout the world, and unable to afford sending additional Japanese engineers and coordinators. Georgetown had to figure things out largely with Americans.

Table 13-2, above, shows a variety of different approaches that Toyota uses for process improvement projects, including various types of crossfunctional teams, Quality Circles, and work groups under a group leader. The need for radical improvement at Georgetown taxed all of these approaches and more.

There are some common characteristics of these process improvement activities at Georgetown, and Toyota generally:

1. Process improvement projects in individual areas are driven by hoshin kanri (policy deployment) objectives for the site that are linked to improvement objectives for North America, which are linked to improvement objectives all the way up to annual goals of the president of Toyota.
2. The process improvement project follows the steps described in Chapters 13 through 17. Ultimately it will look like the problemsolving A3 report described in Chapter 18. It may be displayed on a board, a wall, or on an A3 report, but all the elements will be included (e.g., problem statement, improvement objectives, alternatives considered, selected alternatives, justification, results, additional actions to be taken).
3. It will follow the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.
4. It will be part of an organizational learning process, with any key learning shared across the organization.

To support these dramatic improvements, which were needed in many Toyota facilities, Toyota established the Global Production Center (GPC) in Japan. In the past, Georgetown had a mother-child relationship with the Tsutsumi plant in Japan, which also made Camrys. The Georgetown engine plant learned from the Kamigo engine plant in Japan. They “child” plant learned some specific traits of this parent. Now Toyota wanted a global common system and developed GPC to spread TPS in a uniform way. Originally, Japanese coordinators came to each plant in North America and mentored managers one on one. It was a learningby-doing approach. But now, with sites outnumbering coordinators, GPC had to rely on more formal training materials to spread TPS concepts. Georgetown also had the opportunity to learn from the Operations Management Development Division (OMDD) in the United States, which taught TPS to suppliers but now was a resource internally as well. Georgetown employees can engage in a twoto three-year rotation in OMDD, doing projects at suppliers to deeply learn TPS.

One way Georgetown used OMDD was to require all managers, even at the highest levels, to lead shorter kaizen projects at suppliers and get their hands dirty in a new environment with painfully honest critiques from OMDD’s TPS masters. They did a one-week process-level kaizen and then a two-week systems-level-material-and-information-flow kaizen. Managers who led the supplier kaizen activities were expected to lead four similar activities per year in their own areas back at Georgetown. To develop in-house knowledge, Georgetown set up an Operations Development Group (ODG) internally. Group leaders, area managers, and managers could rotate through for two to three years to get indepth TPS experience doing kaizen projects in the plant. Each area of the plant has a TPS specialist who has direct experience or mentored expertise from this group assigned to work on medium-sized projects.

Through hoshin kanri, aggressive goals were set for each plant in 2003. For example, to become globally competitive on price, the engine plant set a target of reducing total cost by 40 percent by 2007. Through kaizen, the engine plant had reduced the workforce size from 1,017 to 930 people between 2000 and 2003. But cutting direct labor was not going to get a 40 percent cost reduction. That required a major analysis of all costs, for labor, depreciation, maintenance, indirect materials, facilities, and purchased parts and materials. Cost targets were established in each area, adding up to 40 percent when achieved. To make it more challenging, the engine plant had similarly aggressive targets in safety, quality, and product launches.

The 2005 hoshin kanri was to be the best in North America at efficiency and effectiveness. This required breakthrough kaizen and a rededication to the Toyota Way. The Georgetown plants had the benefit of benchmarking their sister plants in Japan, which were already considerably ahead on these metrics. The engine plant could benchmark the Kamigo plant, note the significant gaps, study the root cause of the gaps, and develop specific action plans to close the gap. Each plant at Georgetown used benchmarking in this way. Some of the approaches taken at the engine plant were:

Minimize machine complexity through some new developments in machining technology at Toyota. This would increase operational availability.

Use the “cabbage patch” approach to make operations more visual. This included a review of machined scrapped parts, laying out all

the scrapped parts each day. Actual cost due to scrap is charted and a deep Five-Why analysis done. A daily board shows what the problem is, the root cause, shortand long-term countermeasures, who is responsible, and the status of the project every day.

Make the line more compact through line compression. Moving operations closer together reduces waste and allows operators to add tasks in their work cycle, without adding overburden, as well as reducing travel distance to respond to andon calls.

Bring subassembly operations in line with the main assembly to compress lines.

Bring in a new engine on new breakthrough machining technology (Global Engine Line) that is far more flexible and at the same time simpler and easier to maintain.

More local sourcing of materials and tooling to reduce shipping costs and take advantage of lower costs in America than Japan (tooling locally cut costs 30 percent).

Long–term, the objective was to merge the sixand four-cylinder lines into one flexible line that would greatly reduce capital costs and provide flexibility to level the schedule as demand patterns change for one versus the other engine.

There were many small kaizen activities in the engine plant. Here are a few examples:

Comparison to Kamigo showed that Georgetown was using significantly more labor. So many small projects were done using yamazumi (balance) charts and analysis using the Standard Work Combination Table discussed in Chapter 6. In one project a team under the group leader was able to reduce one process out of three in this way. Spread across all of the teams in the plant, this begins to add up. (Note: eliminating a “process” in many companies equates to eliminating a person’s job but at Toyota the person is not let go but moved to another position. Through attrition, early retirement, and reducing temporary employees this will ultimately lead to higher labor productivity).

A Quality Circle activity on tooling wear done by a team that saved 16 cents per unit.

One machine was hidden from view by curtains, and uncovering it to see what was going on revealed problems of how metal chips were building up and coolant was overflowing. A better preventive maintenance system was put in place, and scrap and operational availability were charted and improved.

There were so many changes occurring all over the Georgetown site to meet these aggressive targets that it’s hard to do justice to the magnitude of the improvement effort. Each improvement project used the same rigorous problem-solving approach, with specific measurable objectives to achieve the goals set at the next level up in the hoshin kanri. Here are a few examples:

  • A large project was initiated to systematically work through the problems identified in the D. Power initial quality survey for the Camry and to implement countermeasures. The initial quality survey counted things gone wrong in six areas of the vehicle (chassis/transmission, engine/brakes, features and controls, body exterior/exterior paint, body interior). Six cross-functional “customer satisfaction teams” were established for these areas, each with a management-level lead for daily activities and a high-level “executive champion” to address external support. A visual management bay was set up on the shop floor to display information and hold weekly 30-minute stand-up meetings.

Each of the six areas has a portion of the wall to display information and project status. J.D. Power publishes results twice per year, and companies can get in-depth versions of the study comparing themselves to other companies. Toyota paid for an additional level, which gives monthly customer survey data, including verbatim descriptions of the problem and the actual Vehicle Identification Numbers of problem cars. The complete problem-solving process described in this section was followed from the problem definition to identifying alternative solutions to developing detailed action plans with what, who, and when. All of this was on the storyboards.

As an example, a detailed investigation of a steering pull problem led to some significant reengineering, while a quicker problem involved the keyless entry system, because people found it to easy to push the trunk release button unintentionally. Many of these problems cut across the company, involving corporate quality, product development, suppliers, and engineering in Japan, since there are Camry models for Europe and Japan. Georgetown took a leadership role coordinating all the activity, since they are the last line of attack and build the cars customers experience.

  • In final assembly, benchmarking versus Tsutsumi revealed a large gap in labor costs of $187 per vehicle. A large project process, called “cost competitiveness through line simplification,” was initiated at Georgetown. Many things were done to reduce the gap. One was the use of a procedure developed in Georgetown called “process diagnostics.” This was a checklist process in which the total workplace of the operator is assessed and points are assigned to many aspects (part presentation, ergonomics, tool reach distance, lighting, safety, etc.). It was based on a model of an ideal workstation from the operator’s perspective. By scoring an operation, the analyst gets a clear idea where there are opportunities for improvement and can measure progress as changes are implemented. A separate conveyance diagnostics instrument was developed to evaluate the conveyance process. These procedures are conducted weekly by the team leader (one process per week is confirmed in this way). This is not creating the process, but confirming that it is still working. It is initially also used to set up the process. Through repeated kaizen, the number of processes needed for the Camry (over one launch) was reduced from 628 in final assembly in 2001 to 454 in 2004.
  • A medium-sized project focused on quality and cost in the paint shop, which has two full paint booths—one for Camry and Avalon (Assembly Line 1) and one for Camry and Solara (Assembly Line 2). In all, 730 people worked in the paint booths. The department hoshin focused on safety, environment, people development, and special productivity projects. From 2000 to 2004 intense kaizen activities were This four-year process started with trainers from Tsutsumi coming to the plant, then Georgetown managers and engineers participating in floor activities in Japan. By then, from 2002 to 2003, the hoshin required practical kaizen activities led by managers. One set of projects focused on motion kaizen, and over four years, the number of processes was reduced by 76, which put the Georgetown plant at a labor productivity level comparable to the sister Tsutsumi plant. In 2004 the focus was on how to drive all of the hoshin internally, becoming self-reliant from Tsutsumi.
  • A more focused quality activity in paint, not based on benchmarking Tsutsumi, was a “zero paint seed” Paint seeds are a common problem when dust gets on the body and paint surrounds it, forming a dust speck in the paint. This must be removed by hand. For the top-coat paint process, 180 items were identified as the main control items for the whole paint shop. By creating a clean mix room, checking items on a checklist, and root cause problem solving, quality defects were reduced by 50 percent. For example, for repairing seeds not caught in inspection they used orbital sanders, which actually created dust and caused more defects in the body. This was replaced with a simple seed knife on a dampened area, which resembles shaving. Together with standard work, this improved direct run quality from 82 to 97 percent and reduced airborne dust. In 2003 alone, the paint department changed every piece of equipment in the shop while painting cars, built a wet wall that added humidity to reduce dust, eliminated a top coat, which saved $10 per vehicle, used a balance chart across three booths to reduce labor, reduced recoats/repaints, and added the seed knife process.
  • This medium-sized project brought a new concept in material handling to Georgetown’s body shop, where subassemblies are welded and then brought to the final body station where the whole body is welded. The concept is minomi (parts only), which translates into something like a peanut without a In this case it is transferring the part without any container. The big bulky containers moved by forklifts are gone. Steel-stamped body parts to be taken for welding are hung individually on various kinds of racks with no containers. This “parts only” storage and delivery system first developed by Toyota in Japan is a breakthrough in material handling. It eliminates containers, thus reducing the waste of loading and unloading them, gets rid of forklift trucks (using tuggers instead), presents parts better to operators—reducing motion waste, damage, ergonomics problems—and reduces the number of process steps for material handling.
  • One example is a hanging minomi in which the parts are hung on a rack on wheels as they are produced. In the traditional approach you press, convey, store, convey, and thus handle three times. Georgetown developed a cartridge system in which the cartridge is line-side in welding. The tugger slides the parts into the cartridge, which is a rack on wheels; it is brought over to the next operation; and then the parts are gravity fed to the operator one by one. Now the storage location is on the side of the line and the intermediate storage area is gone, also freeing space and reducing The process started with a model area, which Georgetown called a “schoolyard” for learning minomi. They selected relatively easy parts, easy to stack and to move and store. This freed up space by 150 square feet, created better visual control, eliminated a forklift, and presented parts in exactly the orientation needed for the operator. Ergonomics was improved, since the parts are loaded at the same height each time. Repacking versus this cartridge system reduced labor by 34 percent and inventory by 49 percent. Projected savings when this was spread throughout were 40 percent workability ergonomics improvement (based on a computer ergonomics model), 70 percent on racking, 5 percent on associated conveyance,11 percent fewer forklifts, 20 percent less space and less walking in the process, and a whopping 85 percent quality improvement because of reduced damage to parts. This started in 2003, and by July 2004 was about half complete.
  • On a smaller level, a team leader kaizen in stamping focused on using a yamazumi chart (operator work load balancing) to reduce one process from an operation. This PKA (practical kaizen activity) was designed to teach TPS by doing. The team leader used a Standardized Work Combination Table to chart what the person and machine do. He identified waste, largely from conveyance, and combined what the conveyance driver was doing with the line operator’s job. There had been 499 minutes of work over a cycle of 450 minutes per By reducing waste by 49 minutes and bringing the workload down to 450 minutes, one operator position was removed from the operation. Safety and quality were carefully tracked and there were no problems. New standardized work was created by the team leader, an hourly employee.

These aggressive kaizen projects are being done at all levels and for big, medium, and small projects. They are being done cross-functionally and from the manager to the team associate level. Why would hourly team associates and team leaders participate in this when many of these projects lead to process reductions, which imply labor reductions? The reason is simple. Since the opening of the Georgetown plant, no fulltime team associates have involuntarily lost their jobs. Those “kaizened” out are reassigned and eventually, through attrition and by reducing the use of temporary workers, the employee levels are adjusted. More recently Georgetown began to offer early retirement packages and voluntary severance packages. The drivers for these aggressive process improvements include pressure to compete in cost with China and Korea, a target to become self-sufficient from Japan, and aggressive quality improvement targets. This is constantly communicated. The goal is to be competitive and healthy for the long term.

Reflect and Learn from the Process

The ability to identify and correct problems quickly and effectively is at the heart of Toyota’s success. Many aspects of the Toyota Production System are designed to surface problems quickly and at times harshly. The ability to solve these problems must exist at all levels of your organization so continuous improvement is possible. Reflect on the following questions to determine what steps

will be necessary to improve the problem-solving ability within your company.

1.Evaluate the cultural mind-set toward problems within your company.
a.Do people generally prefer to keep problems hidden or suppressed?
b.When problems occur, are people supported in the effort to find solutions, or are they blamed for making mistakes?
c.Does your organization promote we/they thinking because there is a cultural mind-set and structure such that some people have problems and others are designated to solve them?
d.Identify specific steps that will shift your culture to one that views the surfacing and solving of problems to be critical to the success of the company.

2.Evaluate the problem-solving ability in your company.
a.Are problems easily identified and resolved? (If problems continually recur, they are not being resolved effectively.)
b.Is there a defined methodology to guide the problem-solving process?
c.What steps are needed to change your organization so it solves problems at all three levels?
d.What specific training will be necessary to develop problem-solving skills?

3.Evaluate your organization’s ability to focus resources effectively.
a.Does your organization leverage resources to resolve issues on all three levels?
b.Are the efforts of your people focused effectively on the most critical issues? How do you know?
c.Are you able to evaluate the effectiveness of your problemsolving efforts quantitatively? Can you verify that you’re not spending one dollar to solve a five-cent problem?