I can’t find the link to an article I read a few weeks ago about the current head of Toyota, Akio Toyoda–grandson of founder, and how he delayed taking action at the beginning of this crisis. Here is an article in Huffington Post and another from the Chicago Tribune about his apology. I saw a tweet from Automation World’s Managing Editor Wes Iversen referring to his beloved Wall Street Journal (its site is behind a paywall–and I don’t pay) wondering if Lean manufacturing could be the cause. “Tweets” are ephemeral and designed either for conversations, or more recently, for driving clicks to Websites. So I can’t refer you to his tweet. But if Lean is an excuse for poor quality or poor design–it’s a weak excuse and a poor adoption of Lean.
Lean doesn’t mean “make it cheap,” it means “take out waste.” In its classic implementation, any worker can stop any process if quality is not up to par. In its classic implementation, leadership accepts responsibility for falling down on the job by not enforcing and promoting high standards, offers sincere apologies promptly, and charts a clear path forward. It certainly appears that Toyoda failed on all three counts (although it appears that the problems began before he was CEO). He’d better get more aggressive about fixing this, or we’ll start to think we’ll have to buy American for good quality.
The WSJ article referenced was titled "How Lean Manufacturing Can Backfire," and was published on Jan. 30. It is still searchable for subscribers on the WSJ Web site.
For those who can’t see it, the gist of the piece was that one element of a Lean approach–that of eliminating overlap by standardizing on common parts across multiple product lines and reducing the number of suppliers–can broaden the scope of a problem, due to the volume, when a quality issue does arise. "In the Toyota situation, a defect causing its gas pedals to stick has forced the company to halt sales of more than half of its U.S. models," the article said.
The piece drew a number of comments, mostly from supporters/defenders of Lean.