Toyota Just Really Good Problem Solvers

Through the years of learning and implementing lean, I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Toyota.  At first, it is easy to get really excited about the tools (kanban, 5S, flow) and how well they use them. After the initial excitement the understanding of how to use the tool with people systems starts to gain clarity.  This is great, but it is still what is best for Toyota and not necessarily what is best for someone else.

Dig deep enough and what Toyota is really good at is problem solving.  Toyota really understands where they are and where they want to go and develop a countermeasure that helps them close that gap.  Toyota looks at both the technical and human side of the system when solving the problem.

Toyota didn’t develop 5S to straighten the place up.  They realized by putting things in a designated place they could see and understand the problems they were having at a glance.  This allows them to address the problems quickly.

Kanban was not put in place to reduce inventory.  Toyota had a problem of not enough cash or space for lots of inventory, but wanted to be able to have enough inventory on hand to build what the customer wanted when they wanted it and also make visible any problems in flow they were having.  The kanban was a countermeasure for this.

Years later others have the ability to learn from Toyota’s lessons.  Instead of understanding the problem trying to be resolved, other companies just copy the solution from Toyota without understanding why or if it fits their needs.

Organizations need to become really good problem solvers and if needed learn from Toyota’s lessons, not copy them.

Posted on April 23, 2012, in Culture, Improvement, Learning, Problem Solving, Tools and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. And “really good at problem solving” requires systems thinking and long term thinking. And with human systems requires respect for people and good, standardized, understood and followed processes.

    The point about 5s is key. Understanding that is something those that understand lean thinking get and those that don’t, often don’t understand.

  2. Matt, Unfortunately as you know all too well too many focus on learning the tools/countermeasures and not how to solve problems. We want the answers instead on finding the solutions for ourselves. More focus on the methods will be more beneficial in the long run. Nice post.

  3. A good read Matt, at the risk of piling on, I think you highlight the key point,:

    Many people use lean, 6-sigma, BPM, IT (any tool you care to think of) as a solution looking for a problem, rather than thinking through what the problem is that needs to be solved.


  4. I always enjoy reading your blog, Matt. Would you be interested to review my book “How Can We Make Manufacturing Sexy? A Mindset of Passion and Purpose from the Production Floor to the Executive Suite?”

    My email address is

    Please let me know if you are interested!

    Have a wonderful day!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: