Build Software Like Toyota [Part 1/2]

Toyota is known for great manufacturing processes. When you hear of Lean or lean manufacturing, you should think Toyota.

Toyota pumps products rapidly through its pipeline thanks to a development process unencumbered by wheel spinning and administrative hurdles. At Toyota product development isn’t so much about developing products as it is about developing knowledge about the product. Do this right and quality products emerge naturally.

“A lot of companies put in numerous administrative tasks which supposedly get you quality, but they don’t have a process which generates quality from the start… It’s not uncommon to see Six Sigma procedures embedded in a huge product-development process. Product development just doesn’t work that way. At Toyota, quality is simply ingrained in the way they think and the way they work.” – Michael N. Kennedy, an authority on the redesign of organizational processes

Developing the manufacturing process plans at the same time you do the design often results in a lot of expensive tooling that just gets thrown away,” Michael explains. That’s because the design isn’t stable yet. Instead, you need manufacturing and engineering jointly deciding on trade-offs in the early stages. It is only once you’ve finished the resulting sets of trade-off curves that it is OK to do process planning and detailed design simultaneously.

The set-based philosophy includes producing redundant systems as backups. Durward Sobek from Montana State University says Toyota tends to stay as flexible as possible until relatively late in the development stage.

“Test first, then design.” – Michael Kennedy

How do they manage documentation of workload? They use what is called an A3 – A lightweight tool (size of A3 paper) to document what simply needs to be done. An A3 template has the outline:

  1. Background of issue
  2. Current Condition
  3. Target Condition
  4. Root Cause Analysis
  5. Experiments
  6. Confirmation
  7. Follow up

Bottom line to develop software like Toyota?

  1. Lay off the heavy administrative tasks and processes. They are waste.
  2. Have your design and development work together to sift through priorities early.
  3. Test first.
  4. Use lightweight documentation methods. Prioritize!

[HT: Machine Design]

4 Responses to “Build Software Like Toyota [Part 1/2]”

  1. Rajesh Raheja
    May 11, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    I recently attended an internal session on the same topic and one of the key takeaways was that while many companies tend to focus on the mechanical aspects of the Toyota Production System, but do not pay much attention to the real philosophies of lean engineering. Such companies have tried to, and have failed in reproducing what Toyota achieved.

    Eliminating “muda” (waste) is in fact not one of Toyota’s core pillars, rather their key was to engrain the philosophy of empowering people at the grass-roots level to be able to improve processes on their own to increase quality, measure them against those improvements. Only if people are motivated, will they focus on reducing waste/inventory and make the process lean. To develop software like Toyota does manufacturing requires significant management commitment to long term philosophies instead of short term goals.

    • Pichat
      May 16, 2011 at 7:51 am #

      This is already an interesting blog posting and your answer made it even better, Rajesh.

      Great summary, gives a short introduction into a lean core idea and explains the difference between goals and means to achieve them: Identifying waste is simply a tool, not the goal. Thanks a lot for making this so clear!

      Greetings from an agilist in Sweden!


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