The Resurgence of Knowledge Based Development (Lean Product & Process Development)

…continued from last post

The backwards development methods rooted from computer use continued and spread in engineering, and aeronautics phased out the Wrights invention while phasing in computer use (to the present day conventional engineering practice).

However in Japan following World War II, industry was in ruins leaving many unemployed, and a primary source of engineers for Toyota became previous aeronautical engineers accustomed to using the Wright brother’s methods.

Toyota adopts Knowledge Based Development

These engineers started designing cars using knowledge based product development, and it was integrated within an organization reliant on learning.

Understanding the different circumstances Toyoda faced relative to Ford shows why it fit Toyota:

Leadership Experience

  • Henry Ford had 20 years direct experience as a craftsman & engineer
  • whereas Kiichiro Toyoda was the only formally trained engineer in the company, had limited experience, and only 6 months touring the US.

Geographic Location

  • Ford was in Detroit, population over 1.5 million, an industrial center providing access to skilled craftsmen, tooling, equipment & suppliers;
  • It was also close to universities & educated engineers

Therefore Ford was in a position to give orders & direct others.

  • Toyota was at Koromo in 1937, a small village of 15,821 surrounded by rural farming area far from cities; no skilled craftsman or suppliers; and sourcing raw materials was difficult
  • It was away from universities, which produced few engineers who mostly would stay in Tokyo and work for Nissan, therefore technical knowledge was not readily available
  • No one knew how to make a car, suitable steel or how to form it, nor design & build engines or tooling, so orders could not be given
  • Kiirchiro didn’t know what to tell his people to do, and they wouldn’t have known how to do it; his perspective was “Let’s all learn as much as we can, as fast as we can, and work together to create something our customers will buy. My job is the same as yours: to learn as fast as I can.”

Toyoda evolved practices encouraging universal learning.

Management Style

  • Ford grew using a command and control system where Ford himself directed
  • “Conventional development process is based on getting people to follow orders.”
  • Toyota Motor Co. evolved into an organization optimized for learning.
  • Toyota has built a development process “around the goal of learning.”

To break this down further (according to Ward’s research):

The idea behind ‘Conventional Management’ is there is one best way to do anything;
–          An expert can measure, analyze and design a ‘best way’ to do the job
–          managers tell people who actually do the work to follow the standard process prescribed by the experts
–          employees are to “Do as I tell you”Conventional management is based on two 17th century assumptions:
1.       Order in any system must be created by a greater intelligence operating from outside the system
2.       systems are predictable.

Management’s job just then be to tell people to follow the one best way, and the company should run as designed.

‘Modern science’ shows
–          order emerges from interactions inside certain kinds of systems
–          most systems are NOT predictable.Therefore, lean management’s job is to continuously help order emerge by learning and helping others to learn, which is easier than telling people what to do.

Lean Product & Process Design

Knowledge based development fit the Toyota learning environment, and the combination turned into what’s commonly referred to now as lean product & process design.  This enabled Toyota to become “Twice as fast, twice as efficient, and twice as profitable as its best US competitors.”

The resurgence of knowledge based design is in its initial stages, and most engineering companies are so far behind they have not even heard of check sheets, A3 reports, limit & trade off curves, or the creation of reusable knowledge through set based design, or establishing cadence and flow.

Contrast this with your design and engineering effort – do you skip to design something and have to refine it several times for it to work?  Are you experiencing redesign loops because of this?

Or are you one of the few who produce knowledge first to base the design on?

More importantly, what are you going to do if you have to compete with a company using this superior method?