The Toyota Production System Works for Relationships, Too


The innovations of the Toyota Production System (TPS) are well documented in the management literature and standard features of business school curricula everywhere. These concepts are usually discussed in the context of industrial operations, but I also see their applicability to interpersonal issues that my clients and students deal with every day.

The TPS term jidoka means “automation with a human touch.” Rather than ignoring problems and plowing ahead mindlessly, Toyota assembly lines are designed to stop themselves, so that higher-order thinking can be applied to better understand and address the problem before production is resumed. Here’s how Toyota describes the sequence of events:

The obvious advantage is that line workers (and the machines they operate) are able to correct problems immediately, at the source, rather than ignoring defective or substandard output, and these small interventions add up to an ongoing process of continuous improvement. But what this requires is a larger organizational willingness to stop production, repeatedly, and to trust that these “interruptions” will ultimately result in not only a better product, but also a more efficient and profitable operation overall.;

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