Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Review: Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement


Jeffrey Liker is at it again with another addition. Building upon his international bestselling Toyota Way series of books, The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement looks critically at lean deployments and identifies the root causes of why most of them fail.

The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement by Liker and Franz is a result of decades of practice trying to help companies on their operational excellence journeys. The book starts with some theory, focusing on what makes anybody excellent in anything. Then the book draws on what Dr. Deming taught Toyota about becoming excellent which it took to practice diligently with Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) at all levels of the company all the time.

The book is organized into three major sections outlining:
  1. Why it is critical to go beyond implementing lean tools and, instead, build a culture of continuous improvement that connects operational excellence to business strategy
  2. Case studies from seven unique industries written from the perspective of the sensei (teacher) who led the lean transformation
  3. Lessons about transforming your own vision of an ideal organization into reality

The book begins with a short synopsis on the Toyota safety recall issue that has plagued the company in the last couple of years. Liker wrote a detailed account of this already in Lessons For Turning Crisis Into Opportunity. Then they go into detail using the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) methodology.  Liker and Franz contrast true PDCA thinking to that of the popular, superficial approach of copying "Lean solutions." They describe the importance of developing people and show how the Toyota Way principles support and drive continuous improvement.

The second section brings together seven case studies as told by the sensei who led the transformation efforts. The companies range from traditional manufacturers, overhaul and maintenance of submarines, nuclear fuel rod production, health care providers, pathology labs, and product development. The contributing writers' experiences, and philosophical and technical views of Lean takes the reader on a comprehensive journey beyond any superficial and limited coverage of Lean tools and processes.

The final section comprises of a composite story describing a company in its early days of Lean implementation, where the authors describe what went right and wrong during the initial implementation efforts. The authors bring to light some of the difficulties the sensei faces, such as bureaucracies, closed-minded mechanical thinking, and the challenges of developing lean coaches who can facilitate real change. The book ends with a discussion on how to make continuous improvement a way of life at your company and the role of leadership in any Lean transformation

The value in this book for me comes from the case studies that look at real people in real industries that aren't automotive along their real lean journeys. The case studies demonstrated not only what was done well but what wasn't. There were varying levels of successes in the stories, but all showed the power of developing people into problem solvers. They teach us just like at Toyota there is always opportunity to improve and learn more.

You won't read it in one setting. It’s a long book at 432 pages but it’s packed with value.  It took me almost a year to read this book because of all the information the authors distilled within its pages. This is a book you can continually refer to for advice along your own journey.

This book shows the evolution of Lean and demonstrates how anyone can adopt these principles and philosophies in their environment. The authors explain Lean is not a set of tools but rather a business philosophy around developing people as problem solvers who continuously learn and improve.

The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement is valuable reading for anyone seeking to transcend his or her tools-based approach and truly embrace a culture of continuous improvement.  It is definitely written for the practitioner with a good mix of theory and case studies. Lean enthusiasts will certainly enjoy Liker and Franz’s addition but so will anyone that wants to lead lasting improvement in their organization.


The authors were awarded the Shingo Research Award at the 24th annual Shingo Prize Awards Gala this past year. The Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award recognizes and promotes research and writing regarding new knowledge and understanding of lean and operational excellence. Awards are given in four categories: (1) books (monographs), (2) published articles, (3) case studies, and (4) applied publications/multimedia programs.

Disclosure: The publisher provided a copy of this book for the purpose of reviewing it.




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