Given all the things that come out of Japan, it’s remarkable and not a little bit bemusing how often it’s the quirky side of life that dominates any discourse on the country. Off the wall fetishes, cosplay kiddies, vacuous variety TV shows, manga, yakuza tales, ninja, games and gadgets are all top of mind as soon as any flutter of the Hinomaru is raised in conversation.
It’s fascinating and titillating conversation fodder but, in many ways, it masks the not insignificant contributions the country has made to the business world. And one export in particular has succeeded in enthralling and influencing the top business leaders across the globe, propelling a once humble region, Aichi Prefecture on the main island of Honshu, into the business world’s unforgiving spotlight. It drives considerable innovation in IT within the world’s largest automobile manufacturer.
Long-known for its strict approach to quality control, Toyota officially adopted its now famous Toyota Way in 2001. Since the announcement, the Toyota Way’s five principles — Challenge, Kaizen (improvement), Genchi Genbutsu (go and see), Respect and Teamwork — have been almost universally promoted by C-level executives as a set of home truths manufacturing organisations must adhere to regardless of where they are located. At least, this was the situation before a very recent and acutely embarrassing global recall of Prius models because of a problem with software that controls the antilock braking system (ABS).
Despite the setback, the Just in Time system inherent in the Toyota Way, where activity in the production lines is generated by customer demand and not just by forecasts of growth, is often the source of great pride for the Japanese media, elite and public at large.
What is less well-known, however, is the influence the Toyota Way has had on the company’s internal IT systems and, concurrently, the way IT has enabled the five principles to be executed. The production of the new Hybrid Camry at the Altona manufacturing plant in Victoria is a prime example.
Next: The Toyota way at the Altona plant