Business Book Review

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Toyota Way - by Jeffrey K. Liker - Remarks


Everyone in the auto industry is familiar with Toyota’s dramatic business success and, of course, consumers are demonstrably aware of the company’s world-renowned quality. In fact, Toyota has done so well that, as Liker points out, many consider the company to be “boring.” For, after all, steadily growing sales, consistent profitability, huge cash reserves, operational efficiency (combined with constant innovation—not an easy complement to pull off), and top quality, year after year, are not the stuff of breaking news. But, despite this reputation as the best manufacturer in the world, and despite the huge influence of the lean movement, most attempts to emulate and implement lean production have been fairly superficial, with less than stellar results over the long term. “Dabbling at one level—the ‘Process’ level,” U.S. companies have embraced lean tools, but do not understand what makes them work together in a system.

This integration is precisely what The Toyota Way examines, explaining how to create a Toyota-style culture of quality, lean, and learning that takes quantum leaps beyond any superficial focus on tools and techniques. Suffice it to say, there are hundreds of books out there explaining, analyzing, and advocating lean—providing details and insight into the tools and methods of TPS. The two most noted among this treasure trove are, of course, the contributions of The Machine That Changed the World (Womack, Jones, Roos, 1991) and Lean Thinking (Womack and Jones, 1996), and both stand as excellent resources on the subject. The first introduced the world to the tools and techniques of lean manufacturing by extracting its principles from their initial Japanese application and examining them in detail. And, the second explained how “to make value flow smoothly at the pull of the customer in pursuit of perfection.”

The Toyota Way is, however (according to Liker), the first business book in English to provide a blueprint of Toyota’s management philosophy for general business readers, dispelling the misconceptions that TPS is merely a collection of tools that lead to more efficient operations. Of course, there is no way of ascertaining the validity of this claim, without an extensive and time consuming exploration of the literature, but that truly doesn’t matter. The Toyota Way is an approach of such breadth, depth, and significance to the world of business that it has yet to be fully understood; thus, the subject has not yet been fully exhausted. Liker’s keen sense of the subtleties of TPS intrepidly challenges conventional understanding and transforms it with eloquent simplicity. He takes the reader deeply and comprehensively into the “heart and intelligence” of Toyota’s “way,” giving businesses in diverse industries some very practical and effective ideas that they can use to develop their own unique approach to TPS.


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