16 February 2012

Several years ago Toyota went through one of the worst stages of its history. Just as the world was in the midst of a financial crisis, we all started to hear about runaway Toyotas and brake failures. TPS and Lean Manufacturing came under the microscope like never before, and many, specially the media, opportunists, the U.S. government (trying everything they could to hurt the competition to prop up U.S. automakers), and many started to doubt the benefits of a system previously lauded for delivering exceptional quality.

It was only after several years, millions of vehicle recalls, a humbling apology by Akio Toyoda (in front of a hostile US Congress), and a joint NHTSA / NASA investigation into the issue to really show that TPS was doing what it had to do! After the investigations concluded, the data showed that the majority of the accidents occurred due to drivers not pressing the brakes.

Of course, while everyone blamed bad accelerators, and even electronics, Toyota did what it did best… it used real world data to perform its root cause analysis. In late 2009, and before the runaway problem really exploded, Toyota was already recalling and fixing the mat interference issue. It realized the danger of the situation and took action. 

(There is no justifying any death or injuries due to poor designs and/or quality… and the mat issue did contribute to these. However, the fact that the Media and Government went to such great extents to damage Toyota’s image – in order to prop up GM and Chrysler – makes me wonder if they perpetuated the problem. If anything, that witch hunt probably forced Toyota to commit resources to a wild goose chase and likely lose focus on the real issue… the floor mats.) 

This year’s JD Power ratings were released and Toyota claimed the top spot in 8 of the segments. It is also interesting to note that these ratings concern 2009 models, the bulk of which went under the microscope due to the ‘runaway’ issue. This not only confirms Toyota’s commitment to quality, but that in the wake of the ‘fiasco’, they continue to do what they do best… learn and continuously improve.

Posted on Thursday, February 16, 2012 by George R.

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14 February 2012

Yokoten , (loosely defined) is the reapplication of a solution to similar problems in different areas. This essentially boils down to a ‘teaching’ process, and how solutions are ‘taught’ across an organization so that team members can apply and improve upon the acquired knowledge. To me, the holy grail of the continuous improvement process is simply this – the ability to quickly apply learned solutions to other areas (vertically and horizontally in an organization).
But how do organizations ensure that learned solutions are effectively communicated? This is usually answered by the different teaching and communication avenues found in effective lean organizations -such as Toyota - that attempt to maximize the exposure of a solution to their team members. In a typical CI process, Kaizen are communicated via the Kaizen card. Normally placed at the location where change is occurring as well as common bulletin boards across the organization, this allows team members to see the before and after conditions and learn how a particular problem was resolved. The theory here is that team members can carry that knowledge to their work areas and implement similar or improved solutions.

As in most organizations, this process is paper-based, and although ideas receive great visibility (if the CI program is well designed), once they are removed from the bulletin boards, the learning stops, and unless there is a common repository accessible to all, the solutions are no longer available to those who were never made aware of it (and yes…, there are still those who just go to work and don’t read the bulletin boards!)

This fact leads to what I call the “Re-inventing the wheel” syndrome that is usually observed in lean organizations. Although everyone agrees that someone who is solving a problem (even though the solution exists) is actually learning, it is evident that this effort in “reinventing the wheel” can be viewed as non-value-added. The work is being re-done, and therefore time and ‘testing’ resources are being invested in the effort.

So the question this brings up is how to maximize the benefits of a solution across an entire organization? To me the answer is simple – adopt the use of tools and methods that not only enhance the communication of solutions across an organization, but also do so perpetually. In other words, make solutions readily available to team members looking to solve problems!

Eureka, our Idea Management Software addresses that question and is designed to help organizations maximize yokoten. Our system allows users to not only document their Kaizen, but more importantly allows them to search through ALL the kaizen that have been documented to find potential solutions to their particular problems.

Of course there are a myriad of other benefits of using Idea Management software - such as greater process transparency, accounting of benefits, and greater collaboration amongst users who may not necessarily be in the same location – but we’ll leave those for another discussion.

Posted on Tuesday, February 14, 2012 by George R.

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02 February 2012

Plan do Check Act
No company should be doing business if they don’t ensure Continuous Improvement and Innovation initiatives are never ending cycles. In short – never ending cycle – means that a company needs to do what it can to out-do itself!

A recent article in Bloomberg highlights the predicament BlackBerry got into by not doing this. They disrupted the market with a product called the Blackberry messaging device, and were in the lead of the smartphone market until Apple disrupted them.

RIM fell into complacency thinking that no-one would be able to compete with the appeal their products had for corporate clients. After all the security features, I will admit, were above and beyond anything on the market. However, what this meant was that RIM would continue to build ‘clunky’ hardware and less than friendly software believing corporate clients would continue to flock to their products.

  • (Note: I purchased a Blackberry Storm 2 over two years ago when RIM got into the touchscreen smartphone market thinking they would compete effectively with Apple. I was dead WRONG! Not only was the hardware subpar, it couldn’t be upgraded to the newer OS6 and OS7. In fact, RIM stopped updating their OS5 over a year ago (at least I never saw a newer version) which still carried Storm related bugs. To make things worse, it wasn’t until last fall that BB released a replacement for the Storm on Verizon’s network. Believe it or not they kept selling the device at full price with a very outdated OS! In my opinion, RIM did not care about the user experience!)

In the meantime Apple (and then Google) got into the market delivering devices with extremely user-friendly features. The none-corporate users started buying these by the tons and the application eco-system started to bloom.  The underlying theme with these two was the fact that they catered to the user experience and needs while RIM di not cater to users but rather corporate IT departments. The majority of BB users had the phones ‘forced’ on them because of their jobs.

The very eco-systems that Apple and Google created have now delivered security applications that can start competing with RIM.  In fact, RIM, late last year, decided to givein and communicated its intent to provide software to integrate iPhone andAndroid users into corporate Blackberry networks. This further reduced the Blackberry’s market relevance, but it was a necessary evil knowing that if they didn’t do this, their other business line – Blackberry Enterprise Servers –would eventually succumb to the competing services from Apple and Google.

This move is just another indication that Blackberry is in ‘reactive’ mode and still failing to engage the never-ending Continuous Improvement and Innovation cycles.

My prediction with this recent move is that RIM will either a) Exit the hardware market and become strictly a service provider, or b) give up its Blackberry OS and adopt the Android or Windows Phone OS (I hardly believe Apple will ever put their OS on another device.)  Either way, for RIM to become relevant again they will need to become disruptive again, but it won’t happen in the smartphone market!  (Perhaps they should consider space exploration!)

Posted on Thursday, February 02, 2012 by George R.

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