And why. Recognize that the way that problems are treated reflects your corporate culture. All of this was just happening. The agreement with the United Auto Workers union was yet to be signed. It was just a dream.
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One question in particular came up a lot: "What did you really do to change the culture at NUMMI so dramatically so quickly?
We all have unconscious biases in how we perceive and report. Writing in first person helps you, the reader, to see and judge my biases for yourself. Thanks, Mike, for reminding me to point that out. Furthermore, I always try to make it obvious when I am providing facts versus interpretation or opinion.
And to do justice to this important topic, this column is much longer than your typical web log. So, consider yourself warned. Takaoka Plant outline, circa It has produced the Corolla since opening in Before I could help Toyota teach GM or anyone else, they had to teach me first. I worked on all the major processes of a car assembly plant as illustrated in the simple graphic below, which they used to orient me to what I was about to experience.
Production flow of Takaoka Plant, circa Takaoka has often been called the most efficient auto assembly plant in the world. NUMMI was also a chance to put an idle plant and workforce back to work.
This would be a chance to see it up close and personal, a chance to learn. On the other side of the fence, Toyota faced pressure to produce vehicles in the U. It was late bringing production to the U. Honda and Nissan were already building cars in Ohio and Tennessee, respectively. They could have just chosen to go it alone, which would have been quicker and simpler. What better way than to get started with an existing plant, and with partners helping them navigate unfamiliar waters?
The workforce in those days had a horrible reputation, frequently going out on strike - even wildcat strikes - filing grievance after grievance, and even sabotaging quality. And, oh yes, the plant had produced some of the worst quality in the GM system. And remember, this was the early s. So, Toyota had many concerns about transplanting perhaps the most important aspect of its production system - its way of cultivating employee involvement—in getting started.
How could workers with such a bad reputation support us in building in quality? How would they support the concept and practice of teamwork? As it turned out, the "militant" workforce was not a major obstacle. Many problems did crop up, but they were ultimately overcome. The exact same workers, including the old troublemakers.
The only thing that changed was the system. The production and management system. Not true. The old troublemakers, previous strike leaders, were still there. And check out this article from summer of The significant thing about it is the publication it appeared in - "Solidarity. Toyota kept the best stuff - the secret sauce - behind locked doors. And I can assure you that nothing was held back. Once observers accept that idea that NUMMI was, no excuses, caveats, or qualifiers, a successful transformation, the question comes: "Okay, so, how did you change the culture?
What did you do that changed such a troublesome workforce into an excellent one? The individual who put the concept of "corporate culture" on our collective radar screen was Professor Edgar Schein of MIT. And, interestingly, there is no one who is more skeptical than Schein about claims of easily making wholesale changes in corporate cultures.
Trying to capture what I had learned of how the culture was changed at NUMMI, I developed this simple model: The typical western approach to organizational change is to start at the bottom, change the culture by trying to get everyone to think the right way, so their values and attitudes will change and they will naturally start to do the right things.
Define the things we want to do, the ways we want to behave and want each other to behave, provide training, and then do what is necessary to reinforce those behaviors.
The culture will change as a result. The entire pyramid is the culture; the base is your basic assumptions of how the world works. That made sense to me. It was only then that I learned that these ideas had been fully articulated by Schein long ago. That was just one of the many times I have thought I had a bright new idea only to find out someone smarter had thought of it long ago. The best example of how the culture was changed at NUMMI - there are others - is the famous stop-the-line andon system on the assembly line.
One of the decisions to be made in establishing production at the joint venture was whether or not to install the stop-the-line system. For Toyota, of course, that was no decision at all - it was a given. Mostly through reengineering ideas he found from textile companies in the U. Moreover, he developed an auto shuttle change device that not only would change the shuttle on the fly without stopping the loom, the most unique innovation on his loom - the other pieces existed in one form or another on other looms it possessed a simple sensor that would detect that the thread was about to run out, and then change the shuttle before it ran out.
Further, he devised a simple andon apparatus that would pop up to notify the worker whenever a loom stopped for some reason. The combination of innovations enabled a single worker to monitor several dozen looms, resulting in a tremendous boost in productivity AND quality. And, critically, it established a way of people and machines to work together in a kind of "harmony," with machines doing what they do best, supporting people to do what they do best think while building quality in at the source.
For more on jidoka and there is much more , refer to Chapter Three of Kaizen Express. A cornerstone of Respect for People is the conviction that all employees have the right to be successful every time they do their job. Part of doing their job is finding problems and making improvements.
If we as management want people to be successful, to find problems, and make improvements, we have the obligation to provide the means to do so. His or her team leader will come to provide assistance within his job cycle. An early assembly plant andon board from Toyota do Brasil. Each number represents an area along the assembly line. When a worker pulls a rope that is located directly overhead, the appropriate number will light up, signaling the team leader that one of his workers has experienced a problem.
That translates into a promise from management to the workforce. But, Toyota learned that that is what it takes to enable workers to build in quality and to be engaged in problem-solving and making improvements.
Given the opportunity - and challenge - to build in quality, the new-old NUMMI workforce could not have been more enthusiastic about the opportunity to show that they could build quality and well as any workforce in the world. Quality, support, ownership - these things were integrated within the design of each job.
Contrast that with my first experience observing work on a Big Three assembly line. In early at an assembly plant on the outskirts of Detroit, I observed a worker make a major mistake. A regular automated process was down for the day so the worker was making do with a work -around. And with the work -around, he managed to attach the wrong part on a car. He quickly realized his mistake, but by then the car had already moved on, out of his work station.
Then I saw an amazing thing. There was nothing that the worker could easily do to correct his mistake! Scratch the word "easily" from that. No rope to pull. No team leader nearby to call. A red button was located about 30 paces away. He could walk over and push that button, which would immediately shut down the entire line. He would then indeed have a supervisor come to "help" him. So, he did nothing. To this day, no one knows what happened there except that worker and me. A good alternative would be to simply tag the vehicle with the problem, so it could be addressed later.
What changed the culture was giving employees the means by which they could successfully do their jobs. By communicating clearly what their jobs were and providing the training and tools to enable them to perform them successfully. The challenge to build in quality combined with provision of the enablers to successfully do so transformed the new-old NUMMI workforce from the worst to the best.
The stop-the-line andon process is just one example but it is a good one for two reasons. For each of us, every day, every moment, work comes at us. How are we equipped to respond?
Secondly, on a practical level, the most important and difficult "cultural shift" that has to occur in a lean transformation revolves around the entire concept of problems. What is our attitude toward them? How do we think about them? What we do when we find them? What we do when someone finds one and exposes it? The andon process and the entire pillar of jidoka concerns building in quality through exposing problems.
Sometimes those problems are of our own making. That can be a very personal and threatening matter. No Problem is Problem Every person in a supervisory capacity, including hourly team leaders, visited Toyota City for two or more weeks of training at Takaoka plant.
How NUMMI Changed Its Culture
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How to Change a Culture: Lessons From NUMMI