“Many strokes, though with a little axe, hew down and fell the hardest timbered oak,”
– William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 3
Continuous improvement is a driving principle behind all education, business, healthcare, innovation and research. When we apply the experience we’ve learned in day-to-day industry – such as lean manufacturing and process re-engineering – to other fields, we can generate dramatic results.
The Toyota Motor Corporation was famous for decades for its lean, efficient, waste-reducing manufacturing method, known as the Toyota Production System (“TPS”). Two Japanese industrial engineers, Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda, developed the system between 1948 and 1975. Toyota is the most profitable automotive company in the world, by a couple of billion dollars a year. And was only overtaken in July 2020, by Tesla, as the most valuable.
Creating continuous flow
The main objectives of TPS were to design out overburden (muri) and inconsistency (mura), and to eliminate waste (muda). There are eight kinds of ‘muda’ that are addressed in TPS: –
– Waste of overproduction (largest waste)
– Waste of time on hand (waiting)
– Waste of transportation
– Waste of processing
– Waste of excess inventory
– Waste of movement
– Waste of making defective products
– Waste of underutilised workers
An additional aim of TPS is to add value to the organization by developing its people and partners. This is done by growing leaders who understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others. The ideal is to develop exceptional people and teams who follow procedures flawlessly, but always look for improvements, and respect the extended network of partners and suppliers, by challenging them and helping them to innovate – a ‘win-win’.
Toyota published an official description of TPS in 1992. It was a reminder that “lasting gains in productivity and quality are possible when management and employees unite in a commitment to positive change”. TPS is grounded on two main pillars:
– “Just-in-time”: meaning “making only what is needed, only when it is needed, and only in the amount that is needed”;
– “Jidoka” – meaning “automation with a human touch.”.
Jamie Bonini and Lisa Richardson work at Toyota, and travel around the USA sharing TPS with non-profit organisations – to help them improve efficiency and output. They visited Rockaway, in south Brooklyn, in 2013, where the devastation from Superstorm Sandy was still felt for months after.
Metro Food Distribution arranged food parcels to be prepared and distributed to needy inhabitants. A parcel would contain 40 meals and could keep a family fed for 3 days.
Jamie and Lisa noticed that the boxes were not fully filled – there was muda (waste) in that “there was no need to ship so much air!” So, they decided to reduce the box size without reducing the food content. The boxes were then easier to carry, and more could be loaded onto the trucks.
Next, they looked at how the boxes were being filled. Randomly, it turned out, with the volunteers running around carrying heavy weight. They created a “smoother flow”, by having a single belt of moving boxes, with the foodstuffs being passed from one side.
The results were astonishing. Parcel preparation time was reduced from 3 minutes per box, down to 11 seconds. The number of boxes per truck were increased. And overall, the charity was able to feed 400 more families in half the time.
An excellent six-minute mini-documentary was filmed to record this amazing achievement and is available on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/EedMmMedj3M. Or search for ‘Meals per Hour’.