At the core of the company’s success is the Toyota Production System, which took shape in the years after the Second World War, when Japan was literally rebuilding itself, and capital and equipment were hard to come by. A Toyota engineer named Taiichi Ohno turned necessity into virtue, coming up with a system to get as much as possible out of every part, every machine, and every worker. The principles were simple, even obvious – do away with waste, have parts arrive precisely when workers need them, fix problems as soon as they arise. And they weren’t even entirely new – Ohno himself cited Henry Ford and American supermarkets as inspirations. But what Toyota has done, better than any other manufacturing company, is turn principle into practice. In some cases, it has done so with inventions, like the andon cord, which any worker can pull to stop the assembly line if he notices a problem, or kanban, a card system that allows workers to signal when new parts are needed.
Very true, except one thing. Toyota’s innovation is not limited to process and execution. Toyota’s long term vision results in very dramatic innovation (that granted is not getting the press today – check back in 20 years, I think you will be reading about it then). For some examples see: Toyota’s Partner Robot, Toyota as Homebuilder, Toyota Engineers a New Plant: the Living Kind and The Birth of Prius.
A company truly driven by a focus on continual improvement, respect for all employees and reasonable executive compensation might be a company serious about adopting Deming and Toyota management principles. It is hard for me to imagine such a situation that doesn’t truly seek, as the primary aim of the organization, to benefit many stakeholders (workers, owners, suppliers, customers…) not just executives (or just executives, board and owners…).