Principles About Principles

Abstracting underlying principles from practices is essential when you are trying to learn from the way an organization works, for the purpose of helping other organizations, engaged in different activities in different contexts. Unless you can do it, you are reduced to just copying practices without understanding what problems they were intended to address.

Unfortunately, articulating a set of principles is hard because they must be (1) understood, (2) actionable, and (3) memorable. Here are a few meta-principles on how to achieve these goals:

  1. Banish words like “thoroughly,” “rigorous,” “towering,” “powerful”, or “fully.” If the meaning is in the eye of the beholder, it doesn’t belong in a statement of principle.
  2. Express principles as an action verb followed by a single object. “Develop,” “create,” “cancel,” or “hire” are all appropriate action verbs in a statement of principle. If you have multiple objects, you need a statement of principle for each.
  3. Keep the number of principles down to a maximum of five. Otherwise, they won’t be remembered. Most Jews can’t recite the 613 commandments in the Torah; most Christians, their 1o commandments; most Americans, their bill of rights. If you want principles to be remembered, make a shorter list.

James Morgan and Jeffrey Liker have organized their book on The Toyota Product Development System around 13 principles. While their book is otherwise valuable and seems well researched, their list of principles doesn’t cut it. So, as an exercise, I tried to improve it. First, the following table shows possible ways of making each of the 13 statements crispier:

Product development principles

NumberMorgan & Liker's The gist
1Establish customer-defined value to separate value-added from wasteDesign products customers want to buy.
2Front-load the Product Development Process to Explore Thoroughly Alternative Solutions while there is a Maximum Design SpaceStart by exploring alternatives.
3Create a Leveled Development Process Flow.Follow a product development process.
4Utlize Rigorous Standardization to Reduce Variation, and Create Flexibility and Predictable Outcomes.Standardize low-level tasks.
5Develop a Chief Engineer System to Integrate Development from Start to FinishAppoint a Chief Engineer.
6Organize to Balance Functional Expertise and Cross-Functional IntegrationMatrix the organization.
7Develop Towering Technical Competence in All EngineersLet engineers be engineers.
8Fully Integrate Suppliers into the Product Development SystemInvolve suppliers.
9Build in Learning and Continuous Improvement.Apply lessons learned.
10Build a Culture to Support Excellence and Relentless ImprovementSupport continual improvement.
11Adapt Technology to Fit Your People and Processes. Put people first, technology second.
12Align your Organization through Simple, Visual CommunicationCommunicate visually.
13Use Powerful Tools for Standardization and Organizational LearningUse tools to standardize.

Now let’s see how we could reduce their numbers without losing meaning. A list of principles is a memory jogger for employees who have been lectured on the details, and have practiced them both in classroom exercises and in actual projects. Like cooking recipes for professional chefs, the statements of principles can be concise and still evoke all the relevant details.

Principles 3, 4, and 13 all are about standardization:

  • Follow a product development process
  • Standardize low-level tasks
  • Use tools to standardize

Perhaps they can be combined into a single one as follows:

  • Use tools to standardize low-level tasks in the product development process. 

Principles 7,  9 and 10 are both about learning, skills development, and improvement:

  • Let engineers be engineers.
  • Apply lessons learned.
  • Support continual improvement.

Let’s combine these into:

  • Continually improve engineering and managerial skills 

Likewise, Principles 5 and 6 are about the organization structure of product development projects:

  • Appoint a Chief Engineer.
  • Matrix the organization.

And it boils down to:

  • Appoint a Chief Engineer to lead a matrix organization. 

With these changes, the list becomes:

  1. Design products customers want to buy.
  2. Start by exploring alternatives.
  3. Use tools to standardize low-level tasks in the product development process. 
  4. Appoint a Chief Engineer to lead a matrix organization. 
  5. Continually improve engineering and managerial skills 
  6. Involve suppliers
  7. Put people first, technology second.
  8. Communicate visually.

Eight principles is still too many for everyone involved to memorize, but it is easier than 13, and they are stated in fewer words than  Morgan & Liker’s originals. Has any information been lost in the reduction? Perhaps, but not much, and remember: each statement of principle is just an invitation to drill down into the details of its meaning, as explained in the rest of Morgan & Liker’s book. Point 4 says you need a “Chief Engineer,” but not what a Chief Engineer is. You have to dig into the details for this, and it’s normal. Morgan & Liker’s original statement didn’t explain it either.

3 comments on “Principles About Principles

  1. I think we can break TPS/Lean into four sets of principles. When trying to understand a subject I always remind myself of the Ancient Taoist concept of the Uncarved Wooden Block, and the learning process suggested by Ohno and Pavlov. —

    The principle of the Uncarved Block of wood is that when things are in their original state the grain/truth can be seen clearly. Unfortunately the ‘block’ for most subjects is initially carved all over and all this additional detail obscures the original simplicity. Too often we seek a solution by adding to the carving, to see the original truth of the subject we must uncarve its block, and it will be clearer for all to see. Newton’s laws of motion are a wonderful example of block uncarving. Before you know them all is mystery, after them things become clear. —

    Ohno said. “Understanding is my favourite word. I think it has a specific meaning. To approach a subject/object and comprehend its nature. “ Pavlov observed. Do not become an archivist for facts. Try to penetrate to the secrets of their occurrence, persistently search for the laws that govern them. —

    Below is an attempt to apply these rules to understanding the basic principles of TPS/Lean. —

    On my early visits to Japan I had seen that TPS was designed to achieve three main flows. From the combination of these flows Toyota had generated a torrent of competitive advantage. —

    — 1) JIT/JIDOKA. The waste & defect free flow of existing & new products to customers. This must give them; what they want, when they want it, in the quantity they want. The output of your organisation has three main dimensions P, S & E; P, physical products. S, the services you provide to support them. E, the experiences (physical & emotional) your customers will enjoy when using them & in all their direct & indirect contacts with your organisation. Your goal is to produce the best values of; Productivity, Quality, Cost (lowest ownership cost), Delivery (OTIF), & customer Delight in your industry. —

    — -2) TPM. The smooth flow of materials, products & services through machinery, processes & systems. In this area the goal is to achieve Zero 5D’s. Zero – Downtime. (Unplanned). Zero – Delays. Zero – defects. Zero – Damage /Danger to people. — We must move from 2F’sto 2P’s. From finding & fixing problems, to predicting them & preventing their occurrence.

    — 3) KAIZEN. The flow of people’s talent & creativity to drive the waste elimination & continuous improvement process. The goal in this area is to release & focus the total ability of all our people to achieve the goals in the first two areas. . The goal is also for our people to make their jobs; Easier, Faster Safer & more fun/enjoyable & fulfilling

    In the late 1980’s & early 1990’s, the tools & techniques I had learnt always worked, but we had difficulty sustaining the process. (Sounds familiar).What I had missed was the system for managing & sustaining the fourth flow, the flow of change itself. This is the main function of the management team. —

    Once we identified this missing element, we created a skill set to give managers the 3 A’s Awareness, Attitudes & Abilities to do this. As there wasn’t a Toyota word for it, we called the material we created;

    — 4) TAOZEN . This is the management system to identify, create & sustain the flow of the correct changes throughout the organisation. The central theme of Taozen is; ‘Star managers make their people shine.’ The role of the manger is not only to demonstrate their own ability, but more importantly to release and focus the talent, creativity and enthusiasm of the people they lead. —

    The system also requires a fundamental change in attitude within the organisation. The traditional organisational structure has the directors at the apex of the pyramid, with everyone else beneath them. The Taozen system requires the pyramid to be inverted. Directors now support managers, who then support their people who will then identify & support the needs of their customers. —

    Before we start a programme we insist the senior management team have two days to study this subject. This will give them a common understanding and vocabulary for their role in creating & sustaining the flow of the change process/environment to support the introduction of TPS. On the event we create a fishbone diagram showing the management action/causes that will to create the effect of, ‘Success for our company & our people’. Now we have agreed as a management team the behaviour we expect, we can coach to support it. —

    I find this concept of the four flows gives a clearer understanding of the overall process/nature of the TPS/Lean journey. It also helps everyone to understand their roles and goals within it.
    The survival of your organisation depends upon improving these flows and your P, S & E’s faster than any existing or future competitor. These 23 words are arguably the perfect business success plan. You should share them to your managers and colleagues.

  2. Pingback: Should You Know Why Before You Know How? | Michel Baudin's Blog

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