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Production Problems and Documentation and Toyota

Up until now, I’ve refrained from delving into the problems Toyota has been having. Frankly, I don’t know enough about what happened behind the scenes that led to the current problems the company is having. Anything I said would likely take some assumptions on my part, and I prefer to speak based on facts and data.

One thing I do know, though, is that all companies, at some time or other, have production problems. A machine operator might realize that the wrong size tool was being used, or an engineer may find that a number got transposed on a design, or a supervisor could identify that an outdated set of work instructions made it back into a training manual.

Whatever the reason, people are not perfect, and hence, production problems are a constant thorn. Sure, we try to implement poka yokes to prevent problems, and Standard Work to minimize errors, but perfection is elusive.

So in the ongoing Toyota news cycle, I saw an article on CNN.com about a 2002 technical service bulletin. I am not an expert on accelerators or electronic control modules. But I am pretty good at predicting human behavior.

I worry that this type of negative exposure about a document detailing production problems will make people think twice about putting issues in writing. This TSB from eight years ago is now on the front page of CNN.com in front of millions of readers. If people believe that recording abnormal conditions when production problems occur will come back to bite them, there’s a good chance that they will stop writing them down. And if they stop writing them down and sharing the information, continuous improvement efforts will suffer.

So what do you think? Are people going to be less likely to put issues in writing as a result of Toyota’s problems? And what effect will that have on Lean?


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