Industrial Engineering

Lean is a People-Centric System

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ISE Magazine – VOLUME 48: NUMBER 10
By Daniel Jones and Michael Ballé

Toyota is the world’s leading automaker both in terms of size, profitability and innovation. Toyota’s success does not come overnight, it all started decades ago with the Toyota Production System. What makes it different from other companies’ production system is that Toyota believes that “to make products, first you need to make people.”

Toyota does not seek people-free solution – a common concept in general Taylorist approach that expect people to comply mindlessly – instead they form people-centric solution in which  the employees themselves contribute to designing and running their own processes. While most manufacturing companies think, “If we solve all problems in the process, the process will perform better,” Toyota believes that “if everybody understands their job better in how it connects to customers and colleagues by solving problems one by one, the process will perform better.” In short, the people are the process.

Toyota does not seek to achieve “operational effectiveness” by binding people more tightly to a “better” designed process. Instead, they seek to encourage the creative thinking that comes from each person caring more about their work, its outcomes, its output and the unavoidable waste any working process generates. A completely different view from Taylorist thinking that assert that if the process is more tightly defined and if people are somehow constrained to comply more rigorously, better outcomes will ensure.

To create a lean environment like Toyota’s, there are three core ideas:

  1. Put customers first; product and process performance must go hand in hand.
  2. Any workplace should be thought of as an abnormality management system.
  3. In order to sustain the creative tension in the workplace, lean has hit upon the idea of accelerating all flows everywhere.