Throughout its history, Toyota has made a habit of labeling its business concepts and guiding values. In learning more about the company, I’ve picked up a few useful concepts from their manufacturing vocabulary:
Jidoka: Automation with a Human Touch
The idea of jidoka is that humans should work with machines to produce the best possible outcome, leveraging the execution ability of a machine and the judgement of a human. I learned this term on a tour of Toyota’s Nagoya factory, where jidoka is a guiding principle. The concept originally comes from Sakichi Toyoda’s invention of the automatic loop in 1896, back when Toyota was in the textile business.
Jidoka will become increasingly relevant as computers continue to do more and more work that humans have historically done. The concept has been ported to English under the name “autonomation,” and the Atlantic recently ran a story on how human-computer hybrids are changing the telemarketing business.
Poka-yoke is about designing processes to minimize human error, such that there’s no wrong way to do something. Treehouse did a nice write up of the idea. It can broadly be applied to any kind of user assembly (furniture), tool (hold the break to start a car), or education (try it until it works). Thanks to Brad Sewell for sharing.
Kaizen: Continuous Improvement
Kaizen translates to iterative improvement, the process of refining processes, testing assumptions, and implementing learnings. From Wikipedia:
Kaizen is a daily process, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates overly hard work, and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and how to learn to spot waste in business processes.
The lean startup methodology, where new businesses are created by hypothesis-driven experimentation and iterative development, is heavily influenced by the concept of Kaizen.
Update 1/3: A great discussion followed this post on Hacker News, with references to William Deming, an American professor who heavily influenced Japanese business, and The Toyota Way, a book that elaborates on the company’s methodology.
Follow me on Twitter @josephcohen
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