Akio Toyoda wrote an OpEd piece in the Washington Post offering up his mea culpas and outlining his plan for resolving Toyota's quality challenges. You might have to subscribe to the Post to read it (it's free) but it is worth the aggravation to sign up with them to read the full article.
Time will tell, of course, whether the plan will amount to real improvement. I have my doubts whether this guy really gets it. Of the greatest concern is the centerpiece of Toyota's solution the establishment of an 'Automotive center of Quality Excellence "where a team of our top engineers will focus on strengthening our quality management and quality control across North America", reported elsewhere to be planned for Detroit. That strikes me as a GM sort of solution – get a small group of real smart guys together to fix things. So much for going to the gemba to solve problems. So much for tapping the insights and ideas of all of those dedicated production folks kevin wrote about, whose noses are inches from brake shafts and floor mats every day.
I am more optimistic about Toyoda's plan to "ask a blue-ribbon safety advisory group composed of respected outside experts in quality management to independently review our operations and make sure that we have eliminated any deficiencies in our processes." If that really happens it will be the first time in a long time that Toyota acknowledged that they might be able to learn from anyone outside of Japan and outside of Toyota. While they have been a good teacher for others, they have been a lousy student. No one from Toyota shows up at any of the manufacturing conferences I attend, or participates in any of the learning forums – unless it is to drop in and lecture then hustle out the door. As good as they have been, when any organization stops learning they are bound to fail; and Toyota stopped learning from anyone but themselves a long time ago.
"Two weeks ago, I pulled the andon cord for our company," Toyoda said. Nothing about why it took so,long to do it. That leads me to conclude that Toyota really hasn't gotten to the root cause of things. The quality issues are serious – but they are the symptoms of a much deeper problem. The smartest engineers at Toyota are not going to get together and fix the broken management processes that allow serious quality and customer satisfaction problems to spin hopelessly out of control for months – even years - before the andon cord gets pulled.
"Great companies learn from their mistakes," said Toyoda. The mistakes in designing Prius brake software, accelerator pedals and floor mats are relatively easy ones to fix. The mistake that caused Toyota to head down a path other than the Toyota Way will be much harder ones to learn the right lessons from.