From The Mistake Bank:

The Toyota “North American Quality Advisory Panel,” put together in the wake of the sudden-acceleration incidents in 2009-2010, has released its report, and it’s fascinating reading of how a large company’s strengths can turn into weaknesses under stress. [A copy of the full report is available at this link.]

The panel cites several factors that contributed to the crisis, including Toyota’s centralized reporting structure, which led to miscommunication and delayed responses, and an unwise policy of categorizing safety as a subcomponent of quality. But most striking to me was a lesson that can apply to many companies I’m familiar with: they didn’t take seriously complaints and feedback from customers and regulators – until it was too late to stave off a full-fledged crisis. To use John Kotter’s term, they did not “let the outside in” at Toyota, which led them to minimize and push back against unintended acceleration complaints. Here are several excerpts from the report:

Truly listening to customers requires carefully considering, processing, and internalizing their feedback, even when it may be inconsistent with the company’s instincts….

The Panel has observed that Toyota did not adequately apply the key principles of the [Toyota Production System] and the Toyota Way to its management and decision-making practices. The Toyota Way is founded on the core pillars of continuous improvement and respect for people. A fundamental principle of continuous improvement is genchi genbutsu, which means that one must “go and see” the source of the problem in order to determine its root cause. The Panel feels that Toyota applied this and other aspects of the TPS and the Toyota Way too narrowly in two respects.

First, while it is clear that Toyota applies the [Toyota Production System] process and the Toyota Way to problems or flaws found internally, Toyota does not appear to treat feedback from external sources, including customers, independent rating agencies, and regulators, the same way. For example, it doesn’t appear that Toyota applied genchi genbutsu as quickly and thoroughly as it could have in investigating and seeking out the root causes of customer complaints regarding issues such as [Unintended Acceleration].

Second, Toyota did not apply the principles of TPS and the Toyota Way adequately to identify and avoid repeating management decision-making errors with the same thoroughness and dedication with which it applies them in its manufacturing process. Although Toyota is in the car manufacturing business, it—like most modern corporations—is also a decision factory. Toyota’s reputation in North America increasingly will be based as much on the quality of its decision making as on the quality of its vehicles.

It seems to me that Toyota has a tremendous opportunity to learn from this situation, to become more open to feedback and critique, and to, as the panel recommends, bring the power of the Toyota Way and the TPS to improve its management and information-sharing processes. Will they take that opportunity?

Image by: danielctw

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