Friday, 9 November 2007

Should companies try to out-Toyota Toyota?

At first I intented to post this as comment to this post, but then decided that this warrants whole post of its own.

"Striving simply to be "lean", or even "world class" is insufficient and, in fact, somewhat simplistic. At best, you end up only as good as (that is, no better than) your toughest competitors, and find yourself continually playing catch-up with them. ...long-term success still requires that a company differentiates itself from its competitors by offering something unique and valuable to customers - whether this be especially quick service, high reliability, low costs, or innovative products."

The whole point of Sun Tzu and Boyd was that the best way to win is avoid playing by your opponent's rules. If a competitor is really, really good at something, the odds are you're not going to be that good even if you tried. No one, not even fellow Japanese car manufacturers, has managed to copy Toyota Production System; trying to out-Toyota Toyota is foolishness.

I think that trying out-Toyota Toyota is the single biggest thing where people go wrong with lean. And that has to do with mistaking tools for thinking and trying to copy what Toyota does instead of concentrating on how Toyota does what they do. You can copy tool applications from Toyota all you want but you won't get better than Toyota that way, not even close, you might even worsen your own situation.

Toyota is good or even great at making cars, but that is only a result of a thing they are extremely good at - problem solving. And that is a thing every company willing to succeed should be great at. I don't believe that it really is do or don't or thing to differentiate yourself from competition, you should just do it. Being good at problem solving will enable you to launch features or products or conquer new markets that will really differentiate you from your competitors.

I don't understand how striving for perfection can get you only as good as your best competitor. For real lean thinkers there is no finish line, no written in stone goal that once you cross it you are 'lean' and can then focus on other things. Toyota is not lean, they don't claim to be, but they certainly are leaner today than they were yesterday and that is what matters. It is ongoing journey, not a trip with fixed start and end.

Ofcourse, you need to have goals but they don't need to be fixed. You might have set your ideal state as something that might've seem unattainable couple years ago, but can be feasible today. If that happens you need to figure out new ideal state to strive for. And then continue proceeding towards it one step at a time.

That being said I think lean is really an enabler for a company, thing that will allow fast transients from ch'i to cheng or other way around. Not necessarily manifestation of Boydian strategy but a model that will allow you execute it.


J. M. Korhonen said...

So: lean is technique. Mastering technique allows for a faster tempo.

Panu Kinnari said...

Yes, I see lean as tool that will allow you to get inside your competitors OODA loop.

But, don't make a mistake of thinking lean merely as a collection of tools. Thinking is what makes lean the tool that get's the job done.