The Toyota Way Principles and Small Business

Posted on November 12, 2012 | in Continuous Flow, Defects, Kanban, Lean Tools, Lean Wastes, Small Business, Standardized Work, Toyota Way, TPM (Total Productive Maintenance), Visual Management | by

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We’ve finally gotten through all 14 Toyota Way principles and what each of them can mean for business operations.

But putting them all together can be a challenge, but certainly one carrying significant reward. So how might business operations look when implementing all 14 principles?

Let’s use a coffee bean company store as an example and we’ll go right in order, with the first seven today.

#1 – Mission statements are quite often used as marketing propaganda, put in place to tell the world (often in vague terms) how the company makes the world a better place. Instead, mission statements should be guiding concepts that elements of the company itself apply. Creating a mission statement that demonstrates how a company will prioritize decisions and business elements helps all elements of the organization align and “pull in the same direction.” Companies that intend to be in business for the long term need to have a mission statement that explains how they expect to remain in business long term.

Maybe this coffee shop intends to be the sole provider of a certain type of bean in the metropolitan area and features other unique characteristics that make it stand out from the competition. Many times new ideas or significant market changes can impact what the company can do to become or remain profitable. A long-term strategy typically won’t allow for flexibility in the application of the mission statement without completely changing business direction. This can be done, but it’s hard to maintain business momentum when the mission changes frequently like wind affecting a sail.

#2 – Continuous flow (or one-piece flow) is certainly the ideal method for production, and anytime it can be applied is valuable (although most valuable while applied downstream). Perhaps customers see their bags of coffee beans filled from up-front dispensers right as they’ve placed their order at the counter instead of pulling items from shelves. This way the customer has confidence they are receiving a freshly-filled bag with fresh beans (since they’re seeing it produced just a few feet away). With a multitude of bean varieties for sale and available for dispensing, it makes mixing and matching orders for customers easier when combined with a pull/kanban system.

#3 – A pull/kanban/supermarket system is a way to provide freshest beans to customers when demand is somewhat inconsistent. Much like a supermarket restocks shelves, the coffee bean store places known quantities of bean bags on the shelves and restocks as customers take them. This enables a first-in-first-out approach so that the inventory continues to turn and the oldest bags of beans are consumed first.

#4 – With better scheduling of coffee bean deliveries (trying to have deliveries made during slow production times) and operator deployment for customer interfacing (when customer traffic picks up, plan to have more operators and more registers open) a leveled-out workload not only takes stress off of your operators but also maximizes the customer experience by minimizing how much time they must wait for assistance.

#5 – The importance of keeping key pieces of machinery functional at all times is even more heavily pronounced in a small business, where available funds to cover repairs or replacements are even harder to find than in a larger, cash-flush business. A large piece of equipment can be the difference between open for business and closed for good. This is why it’s even more critical to fix problems properly when they occur (so they don’t pop up again) and to perform routine maintenance thoroughly.

In addition, the faster any problems or defects are caught, the less continued production of defective product exists and the less problems will linger and become a greater production hindrance. Any chance a small business has to get it right the first time is a chance that must be accepted.

#6 – Standardized tasks in a small business should be easier to implement because there are likely fewer tasks to standardize with fewer folks. By standardizing cash register operations, store cleaning activities (and visual standards), and production tasks, quality levels can be better monitored and improved and consistent production expectations can be set and achieved.

#7 – Visual controls can help communicate information to operators and enable them to act. Using a green-yellow-red volumetric indication system on large vessels filled with raw coffee beans can communicate when materials are in sufficient supply or when they must be reordered. Visual controls can dictate people should move and where machinery and materials should go. Regularly updated production boards can indicate production progress and alert operators to problems.

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