‘Get your boots on!’: Toyota’s spin on genchi genbutsu

Mike Wroblewski, Batesville Casket Company lean sensei, Batesville Casket Company

At the Printing Industries of America Lean Conference in Lexington, Ky., a couple of weeks ago, I learned a new saying: “Get your boots on!” According to Mike Hoseus, co-author of “The Toyota Culture” and a former manager at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Georgetown, Ky. (TMMK), this is how “genchi genbutsu” is affectionately known by the team members at TMMK.

As most of us have learned, genchi genbutsu is a Japanese term meaning roughly “Go and see the problem”. This values practical experience over theoretical knowledge and places emphasis that we must go and see the problem to know the problem.

During the morning session on “Building and Sustaining a Lean Culture: The Quality People Value Stream” presented by Mike Hoseus, currently executive director of the Center for Quality People and Organizations, a little more about the Toyota culture was revealed. One of the first points is that culture starts with values and beliefs which drive our behavior. Toyota places critical emphasis in establishing its values and beliefs as the foundation of its culture. Another key point was the alignment of company goals and employee goals under a common purpose of long-term mutual prosperity.

To this point, Mike compared vertical organizations to horizontal organizations. A vertical organization focuses on production, budgets and standard operating procedures (SOPs) just make the numbers, leaders are separated from the work, people’s ingenuity is used to beat the system, and supervisors manage people. By contrast, a horizontal organization focuses on the process and the common purpose of long-term mutual prosperity, makes problems visible, uses people’s ingenuity to improve the system, and has supervisors work with the people to solve problems.

One of his examples to describe our actions to a goal was weight loss. Suppose we want to lose 25 pounds. Which courses of action do we pursue? Do we buy a digital scale, set up a process to take daily measurements and chart the results on a computer program, and call it part of our visual management system? Or, do we set up a daily exercise process with a diet program?

Mike also emphasized providing an environment to think and establishing a culture to make problems visible. All of the lean tools are primarily focused on making problems visible. We must learn to admit to having a problem and commit ourselves to solving the problem. Mike told us that at TMMK, more than 6,000 andon pulls occur daily which make problems visible. Even with this incredible number of andon pulls, the line only stops about 7 percent of the day (93 percent uptime). The 6,000 daily problems are overwhelming to say the least. When asked how Toyota goes about solving all of these problems, Mike simply said, “One at a time.”

According to Mike, there are three stages to problem solving:

  1. Reaching: Problem solving that results in getting to the goal.
  2. Maintaining: Problem solving that focuses on maintaining the goal.
  3. Raising: Problem solving that focuses on increasing capability beyond the goal – “kaizen”.

Mike described the Toyota leadership model as an inverted triangle, with team members as the largest base on top, all the way down to the company president on the pointed tip on the bottom. He described the servant leadership approach that leadership develops. This creates the capacity that allows team members to improve what needs to be done.

Standards were another key topic of discussion. Without standards, there is no problem. The first question should be, what is our standard? That question should be followed by, does everyone see the problem? Finally, what are we going to do about it?

In summary, Mike Hoseus stated that connecting the product and people value streams is the key. Lean can only be effective with both, and lean can’t be sustained without both. At Toyota, employees believe that their competitive advantage is people and problem solving.

So, what values and beliefs do we need to start with in order to drive our lean culture? Maybe we can start with this: Another problem? Life is good! Let’s get our boots on!

About the author:
Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently the lean sensei at Batesville Casket Company in Batesville, Ind. He also writes a blog called “Got Boondoggle?” featuring lean and Six Sigma topics. Check it out at http://gotboondoggle.blogspot.com/.

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Toyota Material Handling

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently a ...

About the Author