Only a month ago I wrote about going beyond Toyota. And in light of the last month's events, I suppose that must seem prescient. But actually it wasn't because I wasn’t writing about Toyota. I was writing about the path ahead for our Lean Community.
By stomping on the gas Toyota briefly lost touch with the core values and rigorous methods that had worked brilliantly for solving customer problems over the preceding 50 years while permitting Toyota to prosper. The result has been some bumps in the road to the future. And there are likely to be further jolts in the near term as every journalist, regulator, legislative committee, and trial lawyer in every country pores over Toyota's product safety performance.
Emotional heijunka is really useful in a crisis. It's amazing how the media oscillate effortlessly between over-the-top-praise and outlandish criticism of companies. Toyota wasn't quite as good as many thought and it isn't nearly as bad as some now believe. But within the Lean Community emotional gyrations of this sort are as distracting as the failure to level demand (that is, to practice heijunka) while managing any process. So let's all calm down and get back to work on our own problems in creating lean enterprises while Toyota deals with its problems.
Theme Number One: Not one of you thought that what we need is more tools or new technical knowledge in order to move ahead. And no one suggested experiments in this area, even though I'm sure we will discover and need to test at least a few new tools over time.
Theme Number Two: Many of you identified confusion about the meaning of lean as a barrier to progress in your organization. (I confess that I was surprised.) And you tied this in part to the endless stream of strange words - all Japanese except takt, which is German - that have become "lean speak". (Again I was surprised, but for different reasons that I will explain below.)
Theme Number Three: Most of you suggested failures of management at the top, middle, and bottom of your organization as the most important challenge you face in creating a sustainable lean enterprise.
Theme Number Four: Many of you argued that teaching methods employed in most firms don't effectively teach either lean thinking or the proper use of lean tools.
Theme Number Five: A number of readers pointed to the disconnect between lean thinking and the incentives used in many firms (for employees and suppliers) to judge and motivate behavior.