The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement: A book review by Bob Morris

The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement: Linking Strategy and Operational Excellence to Achieve Superior Performance
Jeffrey K. Liker and James K. Franz
McGraw-Hill (2011)

How and why the Toyota Way principles can achieve excellence in every part of almost any organization all the time

I have read and reviewed all of Jeffrey Liker’s previously published books and think this one, his latest co-authored with James Franz, is his most valuable because it will have much wider and deeper impact than has any of the others, The Toyota Way, Toyota Talent, and Toyota Culture. As is also true of most other outstanding business books, the wealth of material in this one was driven by research and analysis to answer an especially important business question: “How to link strategy and operational performance to achieve and then sustain superior performance?” Once again, Liker draws heavily upon nearly three decades of his close association and central involvement with the Toyota Motor Corporation.

Others have their own reasons for thinking so highly of this book. Here are two of mine. First, as I correctly anticipated, Liker and Franz clear the air and set the record straight with regard to the facts concerning Toyota’s widely-publicized, widely-perceived “problems” that ked to the recall of more then 10 million vehicles between late-2009 and early-2010.  I hasten to add that Liker and Franz in no way come across as apologists for Toyota. Rather, they address head-on the major issues to assess the legitimate claims while ensuring that the soundness of Toyota’s management principles is reaffirmed.

I also appreciate the participation of six guest contributors who play major roles when Liker and Franz focus on a series of case studies of learn transformation in Section Two. They are world-class authorities who invest the narrative with an even richer texture of experience and, more importantly, of wisdom in combination with “street smarts.” They include, in Chapters 6, 7 & 9, Robert Kucner (“When Organic Meets Mechanistic: Lean Overhaul and Repair of Ships”), Tony McNaughton (“An Australian Sensei Teaches a Proud Japanese Company New Tricks: Bringing TPS to a Complex Equipment Manufacturer”), and Richard Zarbo (“Bringing Ford’s Ideas Alive at Henry Fort Health System Labs Through PDCA Leadership”).

FYI, as Liker and Franz explain, in Japanese, the word “sensei literally means ‘teacher,’ but it implies much more. It implies the respect granted to a master of his craft by the apprentice [deshi] who is struggling to learn that craft.” As for PDCA, it refers to “plan/do/check/ adjust, a mantra that W. Edwards Deming taught to the Japanese. Again as Liker and Franz explain, “When an organization embraces PDCA, it starts to grow to become a learning organization. Projects go beyond one-offs and become a continuous stream of learning opportunities on the road to excellence.” My own opinion is that continuous learning is interdependent with continuous improvement and both are essential to reaching the ultimate objective: “to link strategy and operational performance to achieve and then sustain superior performance.” That is why Liker and Franz stress, “For Toyota, PDCA is more than a way to get results from process improvement. It is a way of developing people.”

No brief commentary such as this can do full justice to the wealth of information, insights, and recommendations that Jeffrey Liker and James Franz provide. However, I do hope that I have given at least some indication of the scope and depth of their brilliant coverage of that material.


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