The Principle: Thorough Consideration in Decision Making

Many employees outside Japan who have joined Toyota after working for another company have had to face the challenge of learning the Toyota approach to problem solving and decision making. Because Toyota’s process of consensus decision making deviates so dramatically from the way most other firms operate, it is a major reeducation process. New employees wonder how an efficient company like Toyota can use such a detailed, slow, cumbersome, and time-consuming decision-making process. But all the people I have met who have worked for or with Toyota for a few years are believers in the process and have been greatly enriched by it—even in their personal lives.

For Toyota, how you arrive at the decision is just as important as the quality of the decision. Taking the time and effort to do it right is mandatory. In fact, management will forgive a decision that does not work out as expected, if the process used was the right one. A decision that by chance works out well, but was based on a shortcut process, is more likely to lead to a reprimand from the boss. As Warren explained in this chapter’s opening quote, Toyota’s secret to smooth and often flawless implementation of new initiatives is careful, upfront planning. Underlying the entire process of planning, problem solving, and decision making is careful attention to every detail. This behavior is associated with many of the best Japanese firms and Toyota is a master at it. No stone is left unturned. In fact, every stone is inspected under a microscope. Mallery had an eloquent explanation:

There is a classic theory of beauty that comes out of Greek and Roman art: God is in the details. Even the frieze on the Parthenon that is high above the spectators on ground level is perfect because their gods would see it. I think Toyota’s excellence is in the details.

Thorough consideration in decision making includes five major elements:

  • Finding out what is really going on, including genchi genbutsu.
  • Understanding underlying causes that explain surface appearances—asking “Why?” five times.
  • Broadly considering alternative solutions and developing a detailed rationale for the preferred solution.
  • Building consensus within the team, including Toyota employees and outside partners.
  • Using very efficient communication vehicles to do one through four, preferably one side of one sheet of paper.

We already discussed genchi genbutsu in the Go and See for Yourself to Thoroughly Understand the Situation (Genchi Genbutsu) and we will be discussing five-why analysis in the Become a Learning Organization Through Relentless Reflection (Hansei) and Continuous Improvement (Kaizen). So we will focus here on steps three through five.