I was going through my stack of junk mail and came across a flyer advertising a seminar by a well-known lean manufacturing consultant. In the flyer he claims that Dell and Wal-Mart have become the new "Lean gold standard via aggressive innovation and external collaborative methods." Then he suggests focusing more "outward" as opposed to the "inward-looking, and limited to the 30-year-old Toyota system."
In my opinion Toyota has a pretty good (ie excellent) "outward" methodology as well. Wal-Mart may have incredible supply chain efficiency… but they often do it by bashing their suppliers into submission. Or is that "helping" their suppliers be as efficient as they are? And even though their founder wanted everything built in the USA, they now source substantial amounts (if not most) from overseas. Dell has incredible manufacturing execution, but the products or the brand don’t exude the same sense of quality that Toyota does.
Has Toyota become an "old" benchmark for modern-day excellence? Lean purists still refer to the "Toyota Production System" instead of "Lean." And the company continues to be pretty amazing from a financial and quality standpoint… especially when compared to others in its industry. But is there anyone else of the stature of Toyota on the horizon, with organically-developed (or stolen but modified with pride…) process and execution innovations? We know of some companies that are very, very good… Danaher, Wiremold, etc. But who has the stature to have an impact in the future the way Toyota has up until now? Is the new era of company process innovation along the lines of GE’s new "Ecomagination" program? Who will we be talking about in 15-20 years?
We have a propensity in North America to classify things by age and dismiss them when we become familiar with the names. We become tired of them long before we appreciate either their value or their implementation. In Toyota’s case they may be old but what they practice we are only marginally now beginning to understand. And at their core they are a learning organization, therefore we have much more to see and learn from them.
Toyota, Dell, GE and Wal-Mart. Each in their own right is a standard, each embodies excellence, and in many ways each should be studied, emulated, and copied. But in the end each is a very different player.