The Principle: Identify Root Causes and Develop Countermeasures

Unlike most companies, Toyota does not adopt “programs of the month” nor does it focus on programs that can deliver only short-term financial results. Toyota is process oriented and consciously and deliberately invests long term in systems of people, technology, and processes that work together to achieve high customer value. “Systems” are not information systems but work processes and appropriate procedures to accomplish a task with the minimum amount of time and effort. The philosophy of Toyota and its experience support the belief that if it focuses on the process itself and continual improvement, it will achieve the financial results it desires.

As you learned in The Right Process Will Produce the Right Results, The Right Process Will Produce the Right Results, continuous improvement (kaizen) can occur only after a process is stable and standardized. When you make processes stable and have a process to make waste and inefficiencies publicly visible, you have an opportunity to learn continually from your improvements. To be a learning organization, it is necessary to have stability of personnel, slow promotion, and very careful succession systems to protect the organizational knowledge base. To “learn” means having the capacity to build on your past and move forward incrementally, rather than starting over and reinventing the wheel with new personnel with each new project.

Ultimately, the core of kaizen and learning is an attitude and way of thinking by all leaders and associates—an attitude of self-reflection and even self-criticism, a burning desire to improve. Westerners view criticism and admitting to a mistake as something negative and a sign of weakness. Westerners are often eager to blame others when something goes wrong. The attitude of “the buck stops here” is the exception, not the rule. It is just the opposite within Toyota. The greatest sign of strength is when an individual can openly address things that did not go right, take responsibility, and propose countermeasures to prevent these things from happening again.