February 10, 2006
News & Opinion: Toyota Production System: Jim Womack's Insight
While theres been a glut of articles bemoaning the fall of Detroit, theres a certain herd mentality guiding them. Who isnt urging the big three to make more exciting cars, while blaming excessive legacy costs, and taking shots at executive compensation and lack of vision? None of these conventional arguments is untrue, in my opinion. Yet none do enough to explain why, at a time when Detroit is shedding employees by the tens of thousands, employment in this sector remains stable due to the growth of foreign car companies producing vehicles in the state. For the past year and a half, Ive been learning about lean manufacturing, or TPS (Toyota Production System.) There are several excellent books on the topic, including Jeff Likers The Toyota Way and The Toyota Way Fieldbook. My favorite books in this area are by Jim Womack and Dan Jones (who Ive done some work for as a consulting editor of late). Earlier this week Jim published an e-letter of his titled A Tale of Two Business Systems (registration required) offering a provocative explanation of how Toyota prevailed. I recommend that you read it. This prompted me to ask Jim to explain how his books relate to the current crisis. I posed the following questions to him: "Jim, your recent post cast the current crisis in Detroit in an entirely new light. How did your earlier book The Machine That Changed the World come to identify today's situation? And what are the applicable lessons that automakers, manufacturers, and any other businesses facing harsh market conditions draw from the latest Womack/Jones book Lean Solutions?"