Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Toyota Way

As a Quality Management professional, Toyota was my poster child! I upheld Toyota as my shining example of an organization who “get it”, hence terms like the Toyota Way and the Toyota Production Systems. This philosophy gave birth to a lexicon of additional terms and practices related to Quality Management Systems; LEAN, KANBAN, KAISEN, Just-In-Time, PDCA, etc. and more recently Six Sigma. In 2009-2010, I followed with disbelieve and disappointment the product complaints followed by the recalls that plagued Toyota that resulted in a total of 14 million cars recalled globally by the beginning of 2011. Toyota, my icon for Quality fell and shattered into 14 million pieces!
Well the dust is settling and in early 2011, Toyota announced a goal to reach a sales target of 10 million cars a year by 2015. Can I dust off this icon and put it back in my tool kit? Does Toyota deserve it or was Toyota’s Quality just a myth?
A review of the news reports between November 2009 and February 2011 highlights for me several interesting facts. Working on the premise that the accelerator is indeed faulty, the question is; would a faulty accelerator lead to sudden unintended acceleration resulting in death and injury? To address this question I broke it down into the following elements.
  1. Would a faulty accelerator pedal result in sudden unintended acceleration?
  2. Can any sudden unintended acceleration be negated by the vehicle’s braking system?
In simplistic terms, a sticky accelerator pedal would not in itself cause sudden unintended acceleration. It may cause the vehicle to continue to maintain the cruising speed even after the driver has ceased applying pressure on the pedal. A faulty electronic throttle control system coupled to the accelerator pedal function may indeed cause sudden unintended acceleration. A joint investigation by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and NASA found no electronic defects in Toyota vehicles after a 10 month investigation (report released in February 2011). This addresses question 1.
Investigations and studies conducted by credible entities in the US as well as Germany all demonstrated that the braking system can over come the acceleration in all instances. This addresses question 2.
So what of the 58 reported cases investigated by the NHTSA? Of the 58, 18 were dismissed, 39 were found to have no cause and 1 attributed to “pedal entrapment”. According to the news article, one investigator said that most of the cases were the result of “pedal misapplication”.  “Pedal misapplication” in other words mean driver error where the driver stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal or both.
The statistics surrounding this issue does not justify the resultant disproportionate response in the number of US law suits, a congressional hearing and the media circus. Car and Driver pointed out in 2010 that the risk of fatality is about 1 in 20,000 recalled Toyotas while the risk of fatality in a car accident is 1 in 8,000 in any car in the US. There were numerous reports of media bias and verifiable fraudulent claims resulting in charges being laid. It is also significant that the majority of cases of sudden unintended acceleration resulting in an accident were in the US. Similar accidents as result of a “stuck pedal” rarely occurred outside of the US. In all instances of unintended acceleration reported in Germany, all drivers successfully slowed their vehicles with their brakes.
From my perspective, perhaps Toyota indeed had a product defect – an accelerator pedal that was prone to sticking. More profoundly, Toyota may have been the victim of; opportunistic ambulance chasers, irresponsible media coverage and a less than impartial US Congress who after all is the majority share-holder of GM. In short, a dearth of personal integrity.
How Toyota dealt with the faulty accelerator pedal provides a clue into the company and its philosophy. Generally, auto manufacturers do not actually manufacture the cars. They design and engineer the car and out source the manufacturing of the various parts. The auto manufacturers assemble the cars. Toyota is no exception. The accelerator pedals are made by CTS Corp, a US company. During the height of the crisis, Toyota worked with CTS to address the problem. Not once did Toyota deflect responsibility to CTS as evident in a public apology by Akio Toyoda, the president of CEO of Toyota where Toyota accepted full responsibility. In contrast, during the 2000 Ford-Firestone recall involving Ford Explorer SUVs and Firestone Widerness tires, each company vociferously blamed each other. Perhaps due to its frenetic pace of growth, Toyota may have lost sight of its product – Quality. It indeed lost sight of one key concept in the Quality Tool Box – Quality by Design. For this Quality professional, the indications however are that its back in focus and its time to dust off my trusty poster!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Lessons from Sendai

On March 11, 2011, life changed forever for many who living in the north-eastern part of the island of Honshu, Japan. The 8.9 earthquake and resulting tidal wave wreak unimaginable devastation and tragedy in a land and to a people who are considered the most prepared in the world for such a disaster. The traditional media and on-line reports in the following days and weeks told of tremendous loss and suffering. I am however struck by the stories that tell us of the character of the people of Japan. Below are some translations of Twitter postings taken off the internet from the Japanese public demonstrating the innate kindness, bravery, compassion, steadfastness and the calm, disciplined, orderly, methodical approaches of a people in their worst of times.
  •  ( - Cars were moving at the rate of maybe one every green light, but everyone was letting each other go first with a warm look and a smile. At a complicated intersection, the traffic was at a complete standstill for 5 minutes, but I listened for 10 minutes and didn’t hear a single beep or honk except for an occasional one thanking someone for giving way. It was a terrifying day, but scenes like this warmed me and made me love my country even more.
  • ( - We’ve all been trained to immediately open the doors and establish an escape route when there is an earthquake. In the middle of the quake while the building was shaking crazily and things falling everywhere, a man made his way to the entrance and held it open. Honestly, the chandelier could have crashed down any minute … that was a brave man!
  • ( - This earthquake has reminded me of that Japanese goodness that had recently become harder and harder to see. Today I see no crime or looting: I am reminded once again of the good Japanese spirit of helping one another, of propriety, and of gentleness. I had recently begun to regard my modern countrymen as cold people … but this earthquake has revived and given back to all of us the spirit of “kizuna” (bond, trust, sharing, the human connection). I am very touched. I am brought to tears.
  • ( - It was cold and I was getting very weary waiting forever for the train to come. Some homeless people saw me, gave me some of their own cardboard boxes and saying “you’ll be warmer if you sit on these!” I have always walked by homeless people pretending I didn’t see them, and yet here they were offering me warmth. Such warm people.
  • ( - We live in an area that was not directly hit. When my father came downstairs and heard the news saying that our area had begun allocating electricity to the hard-hit areas, he quietly led by example, turning off the power around the house and pulling the plugs out of their sockets. I was touched. He usually NEVER turns off the lights or the AC or the TV or anything!
  • ( - I spoke with an old taxi driver and some elderly staff at the train stations. All of them had been working non-stop and had not been able to go home for a long time. They were visibly very tired, but never once did they show any sign of impatience; they were gentle and very caring. They told me “… because all of us are in this together.” I was touched at what the notion of “all of us” meant to these elderly people. It is a value I will treasure and carry on to my generation.
  • ( - The Oedo Subway Line for Hikarigaoka is very congested. On the platform and at the gate there are just crowds and crowds of people waiting for the train. But in all the confusion, every last person is neatly lined up waiting his or her turn while managing to keep a passage of space open for staff and people going the other way. Everyone is listening to the instructions from the staff and everyone acts accordingly. And amazingly … there isn’t even a rope or anything in sight to keep people in queue or open space for staff to pass, they just do! I am so impressed at this almost unnatural orderliness! I have nothing but praise for these people!
Nothing tells me more about the character of people than how they conduct themselves in the face of adversity. Then Japanese posses a unique national consciousness, a collective ethos of taking personal responsibility and putting into actions what they have been taught in a methodical determination, understanding and awareness of the undertaking at hand.
This is the nation who embraced the teachings and concepts of Quality Management by Edward Demming and Joseph Juran when in post-war Europe and North America, they were considered voices in the wilderness. Demming and Juran spoke of deliberate and consistent application of process coupled with the application of technology and investment in the training and development of skills of the work force in the use of quality tools. The above stories provide some clues to why it was believed that the successes of post-war Japan’s manufacturing industry often represented by the dominance of the Japanese auto-industry was unique to the Japanese culture and the post-war economy of the world. In embracing that believe, I think we throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Organizations that fail to recognize that wastages, reworks, high scrap rates, recalls, customer complaints, employee turn over, poor employee morale promote a culture that is the diametrical opposite of the values reflected here. They lack the discipline to implement the quality processes that pave the road to instilling a culture of excellence, and pride in the work they do to provide the products and services that represent their organizations. The most amazing thing is that most of these companies have as few as a few hundred to a few thousand employees. Japan has a population of more that 126,800,000!