We’ll probably see an increasing number of news stories this year on Toyota as they overtake GM as the number one automaker. Last night the NBC Nightly News (web article here, including video) took viewers on a quick tour of the factory floor of the Georgetown, Kentucky plant.
The story focused a lot on the Toyota culture, very similar to what Charles Fishman did last month in his article on Toyota in Fast Company. He described the culture very well,
At Toyota there is a presumption of imperfection. No one at Toyota Georgetown can talk about his work without explaining how it has just changed, or is about to change.
NBC correspondent Ron Mott had similar observations,
“In the Toyota system, no problem equals a problem,” said John Robinson, an assembly engineering manager. “So we want to expose problems.” Problems expose opportunities for solutions, which employees seem eager to find.
"… no problem equals a problem" sounds like a presumption of imperfection. The story goes on to describe a couple examples of how Toyota employees solved problems with very simple solutions. In fact, simplicity is an ongoing theme. There’s no talk of complex software solutions, robotics, and the like. Just a factory full of employees eager to find and solve problems. Simple solutions, such as,
One idea is using plastic totes to separate parts by the car model, not by the type of part. “We actually bought these from Wal-Mart down the street," says Artrip.
Yes, that’s the same Howard Artrip that is quoted extensively in Fishman’s article. He must be the official Toyota Georgetown employee spokesperson, probably because he really lives the Toyota Production System and lean manufacturing,
The way he does his work is so compelling it has become part of his personal life. "When I’m mowing the grass, I’m thinking about the best way to do it. I’m trying different turns to see if I can do it faster," he says. He has analyzed his morning routine. "I do the same standardized work in the shower every morning. I have to get here at 6 a.m., and I know it takes 19 minutes, including walking into the plant." He smiles. "I’ve maximized my sleep time."
Do you have a Howard Artrip in your organization? If not, why not? What needs to be done to create that level of passion for simple, continuous improvement?