“Engineers at the Toyota Technical Center use hetakuso-sekke, which is the small booklet containing the failures experienced in the past.”
Kunihiko Masaki, former President of Toyota Technical Center, Ann Arbor
Despite colossal investments of both human and capital resources, most companies have continued to struggle to make organizational learning a true competitive advantage. Once reason is because their focus has typically been on tools that manage explicit or procedural knowledge, which is, although expensive, relatively easy to do, and easy for competitors to replicate. It is in leveraging “tacit” knowledge, or know-how that is the greatest source of competitive advantage. The focus must be on tools that help the organization change the way things actually get done. This type of knowledge is embedded in people and culture; it is around tacit knowledge that the best learning tools and technologies are built and designed.
How Does Your Organization Learn?
A lean PD system thrives best in a company that understands and cultivates organizational learning, develops systems, and evolves a culture that captures tacit knowledge and turns it into standards that everyone learns and passes down to others.
Finally, the database is designed to enhance the performance of Toyota’s people, not replace them or withhold the design process from them. In a lean PD process, individual engineers are central; learning tools and technology should reflect this.
Communication and Evaluating Sets
Communicating, evaluating, and learning effectively from numerous alternatives, each possessing diverse and technical design characteristics can be challenging. Consequently Toyota engineers have learned to utilize two important tools to aid in this task; trade-off curves and decision matrices.
A trade-off curve is a relatively simple tool that is consistently used by Toyota engineers to understand the relationship of various design characteristics to each other. In a trade-off curve a subsystem’s performance on one characteristic is mapped on the Y-axis while the other is mapped on the X-axis. A curve is then plotted to illustrate subsystem performance relative to the two characteristics.
Trade-off curves are a fast and effective way to communicate about very complex and technical performance attributes in a set-based environment.
When engineers at Toyota want to consider various design alternatives or provide feedback or suggest solutions to design challenges, they communicate with matrices. Once again this is a relatively simple but effective tool for communicating and evaluating alternatives. Design alternatives are listed on one axis of the matrix while specific evaluation criteria are listed on the other creating multiple cells. Each design alternative is then evaluated against those criteria and a quantitative or qualitative vale is entered in the appropriate cell. This might not seem like much of an engineering tool, but it does give a rough ordering of the alternatives which is sometimes all that is practical… and it can be quite powerful for experienced engineers making decisions.
Both of these tools not only make communication and evaluation more effective but provide a key tool for learning and preserving knowledge in the Toyota production development system.
The Role of Standardization and Learning Tools
Anyone familiar with lean thinking understands that organizational learning is one of Toyota’s core competitive advantages. What is less understood is that organizational learning is only possible with living standards that are seriously followed and regularly updated. While competitors are working on becoming lean, Toyota’s lean system continues to evolve simply because the company has built learning and evolution of standards into its systems.
Human learns; technology does not. In a lean PD process, however, tools and technology can nurture and sustain human learning. But this can occur only if engineers with “towering technical competence” in specific functional areas take responsibility for using these tools to develop standards that become the company’s new (and ever-changing) best-known way. It is up to leadership to empower employees to continually challenge and improve these standards until they become new standards. Whether these tools are manual or electronic, engineers responsible for a part of the vehicle must “own” as well as use these tools. It is this ownership that creates and cultivates a learning organization.
Use powerful tools for standardization and organizational learning
This chapter discusses some specific tools and methods that can help you leverage the power of tacit, “know how” knowledge and process, product and skill set standardization. These tools are not complex, and do not rely on expensive IT solutions. But they must be rigorous, clear, and owned, that is to say, maintained, validated, and updated by the functional experts who are expected to utilize them. Some of the tools discussed include the V-Comm integrated Know-How database, engineering checklists, quality matrices, senzu, and standardized process sheets. The most crucial point about organizational learning and standardization is however, that the specific tools that an organization uses not nearly as important as the type of knowledge on which they are focused, the ownership of the learning process, and a strong cultural bias for learning and recognition of the true power of creative standardization.
Source: Liker, J.K and Morgan, J.M, The Toyota Product Development System: Integrating People, Process and Technology, Productivity Press, 2006