Feb 20 2022
Jan 24 2022
In 2019, Christoph Roser posted six articles on his blog about the inner workings of Amazon Fulfillment Centers, based on visits to locations in the US and Germany. His blog is called AllAboutLean but the word “Lean” appears nowhere in his articles about Amazon. “Six Sigma” does not appear either, and Christoph does not mention meeting any black belt.
In addition, in Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon (2021), Amazon alumni Colin Bryar and Bill Carr make no reference to Lean, and all they report about Six Sigma is using DMAIC to define metrics.
Yet you find some published descriptions of Amazon as a showcase for Lean, Six Sigma, or Lean Six Sigma but, if you consider them without confirmation bias, the evidence is underwhelming. The keywords appear, along with a few more, like “Operational Excellence” or “Scrum.”
Based on the small amount of published data, the leaders of Amazon, starting with Jeff Bezos, “learned a bunch of techniques, like Six Sigma and lean manufacturing and other incredibly useful approaches.”
In other words, they learned everything they could get their hands on while staking out uncharted territory. Then they developed their own system. Now they are sharing with outsiders a few homilies but no details, as is their privilege. Their system is to retail as Toyota’s is to manufacturing. It’s not reducible to Lean, Six Sigma, or Lean Six Sigma.
Sep 26 2020
The post on Does Toyota Use SPC? elicited many comments on LinkedIn. Some suggested that it was scoping SPC too narrowly when contrasting it with Toyota’s approach. In fact, SPC as referenced in the post is the body of knowledge described in the American literature on quality and taught in professional courses.
As to why Toyota is not using SPC, the answer is simple: SPC is about process capability and the quality problems Toyota addresses in 2020 are not due to lack of process capability. In industries that lack process capability, modern data science outguns the old SPC toolkit but that is a different discussion. The most vital question raised in the comments was why we have been not learning Toyota’s approach to quality. In the past 30 years, American industry has learned “Lean Six Sigma” instead.
The comments also enriched the public sources of information cited in the post with corroboration by current and former employees of Toyota.
Apr 22 2020
Until March 17, Toyota’s plant in Onnaing, France, was turning out about 1,000 cars/day with 4,500 employees. Management closed it then on orders of the French government due to COVID-19. They are now restarting it, with an initial goal of making 50 cars/day. The changes they have made are highlighted in the following video but the narration is in French. Even if you can’t follow it, please look at the pictures, and check out the explanations below.
Feb 11 2019
The author, Kazuo Kumabe was a classmate of Kiichiro Toyoda at Tokyo Imperial University and a researcher on car engines, who was involved with R&D for Toyota from 1936 to the early 1950s. The German influence on Toyota’s product technology and design can be traced to him.
In 1936, he was instrumental in bringing a DKW car to Japan and disassembling it. Today, the DKW brand lives on as Audi. In 1947, Kumabe we the was the chief designer of the SA, Toyota’s first post-war model, inspired by the Volkswagen Beetle several years before high-volume production actually started on the beetle. Kumabe wrote this article for the Machine and Electricity magazine (Kikai oyobi Denki, 機械及び電気) in May, 1936 as a summary of a tour of German factories in late 1935.
It’s brief and does not go into any of the details of what he learned. It does not even give the dates of this trip.
Jan 14 2019
“[…]’To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company,’ SpaceX said in a statement Friday.”
Michel Baudin‘s comments: So that’s what “Lean” has come to mean? Laying off people makes you “leaner.” When you see this kind of statement, you understand how “Lean implementation” can make employees worry. I have heard managers brag about being Lean by having one first-line manager for 100 shop floor operators. Never mind that that ratio, at Toyota, is more like 1 first-line manager for 17 operators.