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Toyota falling short of its own lean principles

Lean manufacturing originated at Toyota. In 2008, Toyota lost $7.7 billion, even more than GM. Do you think this was caused by a failure by Toyota in following its own lean methodology?

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This is a popular question in continuous improvement circles. Toyota has admitted that they have gotten away from some of their critical lean principles. If you examine root causes of this, inevitably it will point to a sales growth rate that outpaced the available talent pool. This caused Toyota to shortcut their training to standardized processes.

The new CEO has re-stated that Toyota will place quality as a priority over sales. I think that the fast growth caused Toyota to get away from this key principle but it is good to hear that they are going back.

By the way, the jury is still out on whether or not lean originated at Toyota. Certainly we can agree that Toyota took lean to places that no one else seemingly took it (Honda, for example, is very private about what they do!) but there have been numerous contributors to the development of lean like Walter Shewhart, Philip Crosby, Fred Taylor, Henry Ford and W. Edwards Deming.

This was first published in July 2009

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