Looks like I hit a nerve with my previous post. For years I've been writing about the good example Toyota set for the design and manufacture of cars. I've been writing about the even better example they are as a model for modern-day management and leadership. At times, it might have appeared I was fawning over them…that I might not see their shortcomings. Perhaps. The one thing I know about Toyota is that they understand that their company is built on human beings…the greatness coming from the everyday ingenuity of people along with the limitations from our mistake-making.
I still choose to interpret both Lahood and Toyoda are sincere.Still, it is easy to interpret arrogance in Toyota's actions regarding unintended acceleration just like it's easy for some to interpret grand-standing from Ray Lahood. I feel no safer after listening to either Secretary Lahood tell us that he will hold Akio Toyoda to his promise to be more diligent regarding safety or to the apologetic TV commercials from Toyota. In making our interpretations we must acknowledge our predispositions just as we acknowledge Toyota's pattern of apologizing and the bluster of American politicians. Considering all of that, I still choose to interpret both Lahood and Toyoda are sincere. It will help us learn from this experience.
Unlike the vast majority of firms, Toyota's management approach goes to great lengths to rapidly discover mistakes without diminishing the creativity of the workforce. They couple rapid problem-solving with everyday kaizen. They implore managers to "go and see" for yourself with the role manager-as-teacher. The Lexus and Prius were born in the spirit of "no compromises" in customer experiences while meeting aggressive market pricing. These are remarkable pairings that bring out the best in people while attempting to prevent defects from escaping.
Manage in a way that every person observe, speak up and share freely and quickly what they learn.There are lessons in Toyota's troubles for everyone in business. I'll address a lesson for project managers. We live in an uncertain and unknowable world and there is far more that can be known than we have an ability to know. We can accept that as the basis of how we design our project environments or we can ignore that. When we do our project plans we can't know what will happen in 3 weeks, let alone 3 months. Our plans necessarily must change. People will make mistakes. People will learn something unanticipated. The circumstances for our customers will change. We therefore must manage in a way that every person on our projects and those concerned for our project success observe, speak up and share freely and quickly what they learn. Toyota is grappling with all of that. We must as well.