In my opinion, Toyota’s success does not come primarily from the details of the 17 elements of Lean Manufacturing (though they are brilliant), but from the fact that they found a specific and sustainable way to capture the creative insight and energy of every member of their workforce and channel it into striving to reach their ultimate goals — just in time production, and the total elimination of waste.
People are motivated by a vision
Toyota has a clear vision. Lots of companies have vision statements. GM and Ford have vision statements. But that’s not vision — Vision is never just words on paper.
Most “lean initiatives” fail when the ground floor implementation experts don’t share the vision. Either because management has confused the tools for the process, or because management vision is just words on paper to them. Â Â It isn’t connected to anything real, anything they care about.
Kaizan is not an event is it is a process for continuous incremental improvement. Those who think they can make their plant lean by having a couple of kaizan events are doomed to failure.
In fact, even those who see recurring kaizan events as a process of continual improvement aren’t necessarily going to be successful. Kaizan is isn’t just a process, its also a culture, a way of life, and an over arching vision of a future with less waste.
One of the characteristics of a vision is that it feels very specific and very focused. For Toyota this this is reduce the time between when a customer orders a product to when it is delivered — which turns out to be almost the same thing as saying “remove all the waste from the manufacturing process.”
Why do some Agile Software initiatives fail while others succeed?
For those of us who are trying to implement Agile Software development initiatives, the lesson to learn from all of this is pretty clear. If we are going to succeed, it will be because we get our teams to share a vision for delivering better software faster, with less waste.
If, on the other hand, we impose agile as “a bunch of new processes” on people who don’t share a vision, then when something goes wrong (and something always goes wrong) everyone will blame the process. Conversely when the team shares a vision, and are empowered to make it happen, the first person to see something a problem will just fix it and move on.