Perhaps the best thing that could happen to manufacturing improvement is the debacle that is unfolding at Toyota. It will put to rest so much of the nonsense and oushikuso that has pervaded lean manufacturing since day one – and it should help to drive the charlatans away.
Not familiar with the term oushikuso? Copy it and paste it to this site in the box that says 'Japanese to English Dictionary' and click 'translate'.
There is no such thing as 'Toyota DNA' and excellent manufacturing is not some Toyota zen philosophy that arose like the Phoenix from that ashes of Japan after World War II that cannot be understood – just taken on faith because it is some wildly successful, ethereal Toyota world view. To paraphrase Doc Holladay in Wyatt Earp, "There is no mysticism my friend. There is only what we do."
Excellent manufacturing is a complicated, knotty set of fundamental management and factory economic principles and practices, all rooted in sound engineering and financial logic. It is not easy to understand, and even more difficult to translate and apply to any particular business becasue it is typically a radical departure from the engineering and financial principles by which the business operated in the past. Kudos to Toyota for contributing so much to the development of those principles and practices.
But the 'Toyota Way' is not The Way for the Acme Manufacturing Company in Omaha, Brisbane, Munich, Shanghai or anywhere else. The Way for those companies – every company for that matter – is that company's own way based on the difficult application of the same core engineering and financial principles to their unique business circumstances. Seeking to imitate Toyota simply for the sake of imitating Toyota, and holding Toyota up as the infallible ruler of the manufacturing world from some factory high atop Mount Olympus is folly.
Toyota – and the notion that there is some unseen, unknowable element to their success that has to be taken on faith simply because that is how Toyota does it - has been the lifeblood for far too many consultants, authors and academics for far too many years. They have plugged 'because that's how Toyota does it' into any holes in their understanding of manufacturing, usually adding to their false expertise by shrouding the whole thing with a lot of Japanese terms. You must know the seven wastes by their Japanese terms, and the 5 S's as well. They cannot explain how those wastes and S's actually translate into bottom line problems, or how the Japanese termed solutions – kanbans and kaizens and kaikaku – are cost effective solutions. They just preach that you must eliminate muda with kaizen because that is the Toyota Way – and look at how good Toyota is doing! And mere knowledge of those terms and a few Toyota techniques makes them the senseis who can do it for you!
The failure of Toyota in such a spectacular manner should make it clear to the manufacturing community that the notion that reaching the Toyota promised land by eliminating the muda with a kaizen that only a sensei can lead is oushikuso. About time, I say.
While I certainly hope for the best for Toyota and all of its employees – and there certainly has been and still is far more good than bad about Toyota – if their problems result in driving the pretenders and their nonsense from manufacturing, and it enables the manufacturing community to focus on sound principles regardless of the source, then we have all come out ahead.