How to Develop Products like Toyota
Sobek also says Toyota tends to stay as flexible as possible until relatively late in the development stage. He cites as an example Toyota’s practice of leaving manufacturing tolerances to be set by die makers rather than by design engineers creating the prints. Die makers make die dimensions as close as practical to those in the CAD database, but have the flexibility to modify them so body parts fit together well. Manufacturing engineers then set tolerances around manufacturing capabilities.
“Test first, then design. First run simulations and understand where the boundaries of solutions lie. Once you understand the alternate spaces between competing choices, you narrow the options in what are called integrating events.”
Integrating events are an opportunity to eliminate weak opportunities. It is only after these events are complete that detailed design commences. “The point is that you don’t get to detailed design until everything works,” says Kennedy. “That is the reason Toyota focuses so intently up front on understanding trade-offs.”
This is very similar to agile software development practices. Though due to different processes, software versus car manufacture the two process are not identical.
Though Toyota is adept at developing products, it may be a mistake to adopt its practices wholesale, no matter how good they are. “Much of the lean community tries to crow-bar Toyota’s approach into their own very different business model,”
This is always true. Copying what others do does not work. You can learn from others by understanding the benefits of their process and then adapting the ideas to your organization.
Toyota has several tools that help its engineers organize the tasks at hand. One of the most well known is called the A3 document
, named for the size of the paper its information is written on. An A3 holds a distillation of project goals and customer wants. During development, it can serve as a crib sheet for engineers as they set priorities and make trade-offs. “A3s enforce the plan-do-check- act methods of quality
,” explains Kennedy. “The A3 becomes the basis for Toyota’s entire review process.”
On my management improvement blog I discuss the Toyota Production System often, you can follow those posts if you are interested.
Related: Toyota Engineering Development Process – Toyota Winglet, Personal Transportation – 12 stocks for 10 years – Toyota Robots