Russ Scaffede was the vice president of Powertrain for Toyota when it launched the first American powertrain plant in Georgetown,
Scaffede had learned the golden rule of automotive engine production: do not shut down the assembly plant! At General Motors, managers were judged by their ability to deliver the numbers. Get the job done no matter what – and that meant getting the engines to the assembly plant to keep it running. Too many engines, that was fine. Too few, that sent you to the unemployment line.
So when Cho remarked to Scaffede that he noticed he had not shut down the assembly plant once in a whole month, Scaffede perked up: “Yes sir, we had a great month, sir. I think you will be pleased to see more months like this.” Scaffede was shocked to hear from Cho:
“Russ-san, you do not understand. If you are not shutting down the assembly plant, it means that you have no problems. All manufacturing plants have problems. So you must be hiding your problems. Please take out some inventory so the problems surface. You will shut down the assembly plant, but you will also continue to solve your problems and make even better-quality engines more efficiently.”
When I interviewed Cho for this book, I asked him about differences in culture between what he experienced starting up the
- Jeffrey K. Liker, “The
From this short excerpt, we can learn quite a few of
First and foremost, we can see
In most manufacturing plants, quality control inspection is usually done on finished goods. In
The instruction to stop the line came from the team leaders, not the plant manager. This was another philosophy at work: employee empowerment.
Cho told Scaffede to “take out some inventory.” This is because inventory hides problems. When inventory level goes down, the problems are exposed.