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Principle 7: Develop Towering Technical Competence in All Engineers

“We develop people and new products simultaneously using the Toyta way.”
Uchi Okamota, former Vice President, N.A. Body and Structures Engineering

To excel at the talent-driven business of product development, a company must have highly-skilled, capable, motivated people. Achieving a lean PD process with a precise and synchronized execution of a leveled flow means that everyone working on a PD program must do his or her job correctly and on time. To prevent disruption and ensure success a company must be willing to take major investments in the process of selecting and developing technical competence in all of its engineers. In a lean system, people learn best from a combination of direct experience and mentoring.

Speed in product development depends on “professional trust”. This professional trust has two elements:

  1. Integrity. People must have the intent to do what they say they will.
  2. Competence. They must be capable of doing it.

Professional trust defined by integrity and competence can only evolve over time. It is rooted in rigorous selection and training, and grows between professionals who consistently demonstrate battle-tested, reliable performance.

A philosophy for Hiring, Developing, and Retaining People

Towering technical competence begins with the system a company uses to hire, develop, and retain people. Many companies, unfortunately, do not have a system or philosophy that supports towering technical competence with any consistency.

A lean PD people system is a meritocracy and organized into a technical hierarchy created by developing and rewarding technical achievement. At Toyota, the career paths of all newly recruited engineers consist of practical hands-on work that develops deep technical competence.

How a company identifies its core competencies and values strongly influences its training and development practices. Hiring and training practices also create and influence the organizational culture (or value system) needed to sustain a lean PD system.

Developing People at Toyota

It needs the be clearly understood that creating a lean PD system entails not only adopting lean tools and a commitment to making the organization lean but also a change of philosophy about the way things get done. Developing people is fundamental to the manager’s job. All managers view the performance of their teams as a direct reflection of their own ability. It is personal.

Hiring at Toyota

Hiring is centralized, and engineers are typically hired in large groups that form a sort of freshman class each year. Toyota’s new engineering hires graduate at the top of their class in grades, but that is not the only criteria considered during the hiring process. Listed below are some key characteristics they look for in a new hire:

  • Love of autos and technical work
  • Technical capability
  • Creative problem-solving ability (thinking outside the box)
  • Teamwork (nemawashi, cooperate, share information)
  • Ability to “grasp situation” quickly, thoroughly, and at a detailed level (what to look for, questions to ask, know what you need to know)
  • Ability to communicate a situation succinctly
  • Discipline to work consistently to a time schedule
  • Motivation to work on targets
  • Dedication to craft and company (e.g., willingness to work hours needed to get job done)

Training and Development at Toyota

When a new engineer comes to the body and structures engineering group, the department typically pairs him or her with a mentor (one of the senior engineers).

For many companies considering lean PD, this significant investment in employees may seem unrealistic, particularly in Western companies with a high turnover rate of engineers. What these companies fail to appreciate is that this process of a lean PD system develops knowledgeable engineers while nurturing a vibrant lean culture. You can start this process by using two elements of lean:

  • Standardization: By having all departments use standard skill expectations to develop and measure new engineers, you are continually reinforcing and/or improving this skill set. Unlike many companies that have employees review standards once in a while in an online training class, you would actually apply standardization criteria daily in determining the competence of your workers. To appreciate this lean element’s importance, remember that standardization helps reduce variability in the PD system and that standardization leads to flexibility.
  • Learning Organization: Being a leader in a lean organization also means being a teacher. Within a learning organization, a primary responsibility for managers is technical mentoring of engineers. This mentoring process also prepares a whole new generation of managers.

Genchi Genbutsu Engineering

Genchi Genbutsu, for Toyota, implies going to see the actual situation first hand to understand deeply the current reality. The CE’s team also meets with customers, test drives vehicles, and evaluates its own and competitors’ quality data. The main point of genchi genbutsu is that you can only develop quality products by having your engineers intellectually, physically, and emotionally connected to those products.

Daily Build Wrap-up Meetings

Another problem-solving and learning mechanism Toyota uses during its prototype phase is daily build wrap-up meetings. These are attended by the CE (or his staff), body engineers, prototype technicians, production team leaders, production engineers, and suppliers at the end of each day. Participants candidly discuss issues encountered during that day’s assembly or incoming part inspection. The meetings are held right at the build site where participants can witness firsthand the quality, cost, or productivity/ergonomic issue, and where they record issues/countermeasures and give new assignments on the spot.


In Summary:

People provide the energy and intelligence for any lean system and product development is a particularly technical talent-driven enterprise. Consequently, LPDS requires that you focus significant time and energy in developing towering technical competence for all engineers. Start with a rigorous selection process, and then establish a technical mentoring system with regular evaluations that base assessment on demonstrated technical competence. The result will be significantly reduced task variation, powerful supplier management capability, and a level of professional trust that will enable lean product development speed. Toyota’s culture honors technical capability and has created a technical meritocracy. This culture perpetuates technical excellence through mentoring, strategic assignments, and rigorous evaluations based on performance. Anyone who wants to create LPDS has to be prepared to make a significant investment in people selection and development.

Source: Liker, J.K and Morgan, J.M, The Toyota Product Development System: Integrating People, Process and Technology, Productivity Press, 2006


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