Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Toyota System Production Meets Large Scale Change: A Synergy for Sustainable Improvements

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Toyota System Production Meets Large Scale Change: A Synergy for Sustainable Improvements

Article excerpt

Abstract

Businesses today have struggled to successfully imitate Toyota in their efforts to implement Toyota Production System (TPS) principles and techniques. Research has been conducted to explore why TPS is so difficult to imitate. The synergistic marriage of Large Scale Change (LSC) with TPS is the catalyst to sustained change that many companies have struggled to harness. This research documents a transformation achieved through the combined application of LSC and TPS, resulting in sustained performance improvement.

"This is like watching a ballet. It is incredible. I couldn't believe it without seeing it with my own eyes" (personal communication, January 12, 2004). These were the comments from the Vice President of Operations as he stood by the manufacturing line observing the operation with a smile on his face. The observed transformation is an example of sustainable change founded on the principles and tools of the Toyota Production System (TPS) executed through the application of Large Scale Change (LSC) and OD approaches. A historically command-and-control environment shifted to a culture of operator engagement that created ownership of the change at the appropriate level of the organization. The operators completely redesigned the manufacturing line and their work in order to improve the overall performance of the line. They built the house in which they would live and they were proud. The performance improvement results exceeded the initial expectations and the initial skeptical reactions had changed.

The synergistic marriage of Large Scale Change with the Toyota Production System is the catalyst to sustained change that many companies have struggled to harness. Toyota Production System provides the operating philosophy and improvement tools to the business. Large Scale Change brings process and experiences to the deployment throughout the organization. The fusion of operating philosophy with experiential processes ignites the ability of the organization to sustain the changes.

Background

This unionized manufacturing facility located in the Midwest has had a history of struggles with the implementation of TPS. As an internal consultant, I developed and shared diagnoses of the system with the Plant Manager over a period of three months. This task included an assessment of the leadership, communication, strategy, people and business processes. The interaction of these system components appeared to have created an environment of stagnation and frustration (see Figure 1). This diagnosis and feedback phase created the springboard from which action could be taken.

Research Basis

The work discussed in this article has a foundation of connections to fundamental LSC theory and research. Lewin's Unfreeze, Move, Refreeze theory describes how organizations move from readiness to a sustaining posture whereby the change becomes institutionalized. We had to break the paradigm of one operator running one machine as fast as it could run without a clear connection to customer demand. With customer demand clarified, we were able to recognize work redesign opportunities and move to an approach where the work is paced to match the customer. This is a key to sustaining the type of improvement discussed in this article. As described in action research, we worked our way through problem identification, diagnosis, feedback, action and verification (Cummings & Worley, 2001).

The presenting problem was unacceptable performance against customer and financial expectations. The Plant Manager received feedback in the form of facts about the organization such that we were able to jointly diagnose the current condition. As stated earlier, this feedback was the springboard to action that brought about performance improvement. Similar to Kotter's approach, we had a planned sequence of steps in our deployment (Kotter, 1995). As Beer promotes^ we had more involvement, less management control (Beer, Eisenstat, & Spector, 1990) with the assumption that the operators of the equipment know best. …

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