Why would a company give away its “secret sauce” recipe for success? In Toyota’s case, the answer’s easy: because it’s the right thing to do, according to Jamie Bonini, president of the Toyota Production System Support Center, Inc.
How it all began: The TSSC, which last year celebrated its 30th anniversary, is a nonprofit organization founded by the auto manufacturer in 1992 to help other companies improve their manufacturing processes using the proprietary Toyota Production System.
- “In the early ’90s, companies would come visit our factory in Georgetown, Kentucky, for tours and asked, ‘How do you [manufacture] in the U.S. competitively?’ We said, ‘It’s TPS.’”
- TPS is Toyota’s lean-manufacturing system, based on the Japanese philosophies of jidoka (which can be roughly translated as “automation with a human touch”) and “Just-in-Time,” which refers to producing “only what is needed for the next process in a continuous flow.”
- Toyota said yes to the growing number of requests from outside the company to share TPS principles, and soon developed an entire center devoted to TPS teaching.
The substance: TSSC, which is subsidized by Toyota, provides companies with the training needed to implement TPS principles, which help boost efficiency, product quality and workplace safety—while reducing costs and lead times.
- “TPS emphasizes the elimination of waste, continuous improvement and respect for people,” Bonini said.
The meaning of lean: TSSC has many long-term clients, some of which have been with the nonprofit for most of its three decades. The reason: TPS isn’t a one-and-done, single-size system that can be superimposed on all organizations the same way, Bonini said.
- “‘Lean’ has come to mean different things to different people,” he continued. “But this is what we mean by a Toyota production system: an organization-wide culture of highly engaged people who are solving problems and innovating to drive performance.”
- “When we work with a company, [our solution is] customized; it’s highly situational. What we’re trying to build in an organization is a culture. And to build it, it has to be nurtured, fortified. That’s why we like these longer-term engagements.”
Who’s involved: TSSC has worked with a wide range of companies in many industries, as well as with nonprofits and even governments. This year, the TSSC is working with approximately 50 companies and organizations, about 30 of which are nonprofits.
- The nonprofits are not charged for the consultations. “It’s completely free for them, but they have got to put a lot of hard work into it,” Bonini said.
- Meanwhile, the companies are charged a fee that doesn’t cover all of Toyota’s costs. Toyota donates its time, labor and transportation expenditures, according to Bonini.
The working relationship: Given the bespoke nature of TSSC’s consultations with companies, the work varies from client to client. It may consist of monthly visits, onsite consulting for specific projects or regular remote check-ins and discussions.
- Whatever the client needs from TPS, it requires the TSSC team’s touch. “We have worked with companies that have studied lean manufacturing for many years, and six or nine months in, they’ll say, ‘Wow, Jamie, TPS is very different from what I read.’ You really need to experience it. It’s like learning to swim or ride a bicycle,” said Bonini.
Future plans: TSSC isn’t slowing down after 30 years. It recently began hosting TPS-focused Toyota plant tours, and it has big plans for them.
- It offers half-day tours, because “we want to make TPS very understandable in a short time,” Bonini said. However, TSSC is “also likely to develop an enhanced, two-day tour. On the second day, [tour participants] would talk to us about their particular business and structure and get tailored advice.”
The last word: “A lot of companies look at lean operations as installing a collection of tools: visual management, daily huddles,” Bonini said. “In fact, the tools are part of the system, not the system. Our goal is to help companies understand that the really important thing is the tool users.”