I have long-admired and respected Toyota. I have been to their factories, published and written books and articles about their revolutionary production system, known many of their brilliant people, and taught their methods to thousands of students. Like many of Toyota’s admirers, I was shocked and saddened by their disastrous unintended acceleration problems and its tragic results. My students and friends have continued to ask me, “How could Toyota have let this happen?” Where did the world’s quality leader go wrong and how can Toyota and YOU ensure that problems like this will not manifest into millions of recalls – billions of dollars of losses?
Editor’s note: Read part two of this series: Zenjidoka: The Power of Self-Reliance
After studying the recent problems at Toyota, I have reached this conclusion: Had the tools of the Toyota Production System been extended from the factory floor worker to every employee who makes contact with the customer, Toyota could have dramatically reduced the resulting financial impact and human tragedy. This article is the first in a series to address this idea in some detail.
Jidoka – The Original Respect for People
Jidoka is one of the core principles of the Toyota Production System. It means applying the “human touch” to immediately address manufacturing problems at the moment they are detected. Jidoka is used at Toyota to empower every worker to stop the assembly line whenever a quality problem is detected. The worker pulls a red cord and the entire assembly line stops, idling every machine and every worker on that line until the problem is solved or a remedy is found to prevent a defect moving forward. When the line stops, fellow workers run over to the person who pulled the red cord to help them resolve the problem. In reality, the problem resolution often takes less than a minute and the line is again up and running. In the typical Toyota plant, the line is stopped dozens of times each day.
In this article, we discuss how Jidoka can be applied to the world outside of the factory. Dealers, sales people, and service technicians interact daily with customers and have countless opportunities to identify and react to problems before they spiral out of control. Like many aspects of the Toyota Production System, Jidoka is a simple common-sense methodology, with many powerful benefits. Jidoka:
1) Increases trust – Powerfully conveys the Toyota principle of “Respect for People” that empowers and encourages people to report defects and problems without fear of blame.
2) Improves communication – Provides clear notification of a problem to customers (downstream workers) and suppliers (upstream workers).
3) Creates urgency – Signals an immediate and pressing need to solve the problem.
4) Contains the problem – Limits the number of defects produced.
5) Involves others – Calls on the supervisor, customers and suppliers (downstream and upstream workers) to help solve the problem.
6) Drives prevention – Requires the identification of the root cause to keep the problem from recurring.
7) Changes the culture from “blame” to “blameless.”
When Gary Convis, former president of Toyota in Georgetown, Kentucky, was asked, “What do you expect from your workers?” He said, “Only two things-come to work and pull the cord.” He knew that in order to ensure the production of high-quality automobiles and maintain Toyota’s reputation for high quality, every worker must be empowered and respected to solve problems the second they occur. Every worker knew that the next worker is my customer and my customer should never receive a defect from “me.” Gary enforced Jidoka and was willing to stop the entire plant, if necessary, to prevent defects from being passed to customers. But, in spite of Jidoka being used, major defects did get through to Toyota customers.
With Jidoka, we give every worker a whole new level of respect and empowerment to truly serve their customers. Prior to Jidoka, quality at Toyota was monitored solely by the quality inspectors and quality managers. With Jidoka every factory worker became responsible for quality.
Jidoka changed the Toyota culture from one of blame to one of trust, to a truly “blameless” environment. Prior to Jidoka, when a problem was detected, the supervisor would ask, “Who did it?” Even today “mistakes” in many companies are not tolerated. Employees learn to fear getting blamed. As a result, they try to hide mistakes and defects, or they quickly learn to blame someone else (usually the “other shift”). But everyone makes mistakes, and the smart company learns to treasure those mistakes as opportunities to learn.
Last year, when visiting a Toyota plant in Nagoya, Japan, I saw a worker using a hoist to move an engine overhead. Something happened and the engine dropped off the hoist and crashed to the factory floor. Oil poured over the floor and it looked like the engine was destroyed, however, what was unusual was the supervisor’s reaction. He didn’t berate or criticize the worker. He only stood there and reviewed the process to determine the cause and to prevent the problem from happening again.
Unfortunately, Jidoka stopped at the end of the Toyota production line and was not extended to the ultimate customer, the person that bought the car. Toyota needs “Zenjidoka”.
Zenjidoka – Extend Jidoka Beyond the Factory
Zenjidoka is a new word meaning “Total Jidoka.” Instead of confining Jidoka to the factory floor, Zenjidoka extends Jidoka to every employee who has any contact with the end customer. When an employee hears directly or indirectly about a customer problem or potential problem, that employee must stop, listen with sincerity, and take action immediately. Zen (?) in Japanese, is complete, everything, whole or total. Zenjidoka means we must look at the total or whole process from the moment of conception, from design until the end of the product’s useful life.
Let us go back and re-examine one of Toyota’s sudden unintended acceleration problems, the floor mat which rarely, but occasionally, would slip under the gas pedal. This was not discovered within the manufacturing process or during vehicle testing, since new automobiles are driven only for a few miles prior to delivery to the customer. Many problems cannot be found during assembly and only come out once the automobile is driven extensively. The problem with the mat and the gas pedal was only detected by Toyota and Lexus customers after the automobile was driven. Unfortunately it took much too long for Toyota to react. In fact, reports suggest that the first floor mat problems occurred in 2007, and except for a minor floor mat-related recall in late 2007 of 55,000 vehicles, it wasn’t until late 2009 that Toyota issued a major recall for the floor mat issue that covered over four and a half million vehicles.
I asked a dealer’s representative recently about this mat problem and he said, “I was notified about the mat problem a year before the recall but at first I thought the customer just might have done something wrong to cause the gas pedal to stick. We just did not have the system to notify Toyota to quickly handle new problems like this.”
With Zenjidoka, the first time a problem is reported by the first customer to the Toyota the dealer, service technician, customer service representative or salesperson, that employee would stop working and immediately try to get to the root cause of the problem. Applying Jidoka to outside the factory, every time a customer reports a problem, the Toyota employee would determine if this is a new type of problem or one that has repeatedly happened before. If it is a new type of problem then the Toyota employee would stop working, if possible even pull a cord, and call over a supervisor to help examine and make sure the problem is resolved before it turns out to be a disaster.
If a new type of problem was detected by a Toyota dealership, in addition to solving the problem, Toyota headquarters in both America and Japan would receive details about what the customer said, what the reaction of the repairperson was and how the problem was solved. Jidoka becomes Zenjidoka. Improve Customer Service with Zenjidoka
Look at the miserable state of customer service today! How many of us have experienced the following? You have a problem and you call the company. First, you’re forced to walk through a menu of options given to you by a recording; next you’re put on hold and hear, “This telephone call might be monitored for quality purposes.” You get the impression the company wants to insure you are treated correctly, but in reality the supervisor might be “watching” the employees to make sure they are being productive. Next you hear, “Your call is very important to us. Please wait for the next customer service representative. You are now Number 25 in the queue.” And when you do finally get through to a live human to present your problem or a complaint, their immediate reaction is to defend the company. You, the customer, get blamed for the very problem you call in to report. Companies look at customer service as “overhead,” an additional cost, something needed, but that should only be provided in limited quantities.
Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) created the concept called of “The Moment of Truth.” Employees of SAS were taught how to immediately respond to customers at the first moment of contact. Using the concept of “The Moment of Truth,” SAS emerged from deficits to profitability, improved services, and enhanced its market position by becoming a customer-oriented company.
Zenjidoka, if understood by all workers, will create a new attitude about work and about customers. Every worker will now be trained, respected, and trusted to look for and solve customer problems. Every customer problem will be seen as an opportunity to Find-Fix-Prevent!
Zenjidoka – Difficult but Worth it
“This will cost a fortune!” you might complain, until you stop and think about what not doing this has cost Toyota. When Jidoka started on the factory floor, it probably was costly to implement. But as this philosophy of Stop-Fix-Prevent became part of the Toyota Culture, defects and scrap were reduced, the time required to address problems shortened. As problems declined, Jidoka more than paid for itself. I have no doubt that the same will happen with Zenjidoka.
In addition to responding to individual customer problems immediately, Toyota should set up a world-wide database to electronically capture, code and collate all new problems detected, anywhere in the world. Database applications could then automatically flag any trends to Toyota executives. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of what happened within Toyota in the past two years. Individual reported problems accumulated without notice until they became a major disaster.
Toyota has a methodology called Genchi Gembutsu which means “go to the actual site, see the actual scene and confirm what actually happened.” If a senior officer came to Mr. Toyoda, the current chairman, and reported a serious problem, Mr. Toyoda would get up and go to the actual place to see for himself the actual problem. Every manager at Toyota knows this. But, unfortunately, this was not applied. Why? Because the philosophy was limited to within Toyota factories.
I understand that since the recent recall occurrences and bad publicity Toyota has restructured themselves world-wide to apply the Genchi Gembutsu philosophy. But, is Toyota doing Zenjidoka? I don’t think so.
Will Zenjidoka be difficult to implement? Of course! Every proposed or change to a company’s culture is met with resistance. Developing systems that give public recognition for solving customers’ problems can go a long way toward reducing this resistance. Toyota can also promote this philosophy publicly. This will encourage the public to hold Toyota accountable for this new philosophy, and provide an additional driving force for change.
Zenjidoka will improve the quality and safety of automobiles, and in the long term, decrease accidents, reduce costs, and restore customer confidence.
In future articles, I intend to explain how Zenjidoka can work and also how Toyota and other companies can begin to change the very nature of work.
Norman Bodek President of PCS Inc. and the author of How to Do Kaizen. and Jeremy Green, PHD