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Sociotechnical System

First, one needs to understanding the purpose of why Toyota exists before you can ask yourself why Toyota is so successful in what they do. How can they be so successful? How do they pull it all together? This post will focus on the latter; how Toyota pulls it all together.

Toyota’s success lies within that there is no single secret pulling it all together. Toyota’s success comes from hard work, excellent engineers, a culture of teamwork, an optimized process, simple but powerful tools that work, and kaizen that improves, and improves on all of these.1

Sociotechnical System (STS)

A Sociotechnical system (STS) suggests that in order for an organization to be successful it must find the appropriate adjustment between social and technical system that will fit the organizational purpose and its external environment.

The technical system includes more than the machines and tools, it also includes the policies, checklists and standard operating procedures.

The social system is viewed as anything having to do with the selection, development, and characteristics of an organization’s people and the culture that emerges through the interaction of those people.

The notion of a system suggests and implies multiple interdependent parts that interact to create a complex whole. Thus we cannot understand a system simply by looking at its individual parts. In fact, a system also have a dynamic element – it changes over time in response to changes in the environment. The term “open-system” refers to this interaction between what is inside the organization and the outside environment.

Socio-Technical System

Toyota’s Product Development System has three primary subsystems: 1) process, 2) people, and 3) tools and technology. These three subsystems are interrelated and interdependent and affect the organization’s ability to achieve its external purpose.

Process which comprises all the tasks and the sequence of tasks required to bring a product from concept to start of production.

People covers recruiting, selecting and training engineers, leadership style, and organizational structure and learning patterns. Furthermore it covers the elusive thing called culture which entails the organization’s shared language, symbols, beliefs, and values.

Tools and technology consists of the tools and technology that helps and are needed in order to bring a vehicle into being. This also includes “soft” tools that support the people involved in the development project, whether it is for problem solving, learning, or standardizing best practices.

STS thinking begins with three questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the organization?
  2. Why does it exist?
  3. What is the relevant environment of the organization?

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


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