The quality circles seemed magical to the West in the 80's and from there different words and phrases aroused curiosity first and interest and fascination afterwards. TQM, Total Quality, TPM, Just in Time, Kanban, 5S, Kaizen, etc ... Until, more recently, Lean and Six Sigma.
All these terms that describe approaches associated with working better and with greater quality and benefits for the organization and its clients, have the charm of imagining a path to utopian perfection and besides being emulating those who have been successful in using them.
We could break down one by one the approaches mentioned and find a set of techniques and rules of application that can hardly be discussed and even see that its application is simple, in most cases, and related to common sense. In addition, these practices are available to all members of the organization.
However, everything said does not prevent a tremendous difficulty in understanding the essence and the philosophical foundation that has allowed a few to obtain extraordinary results with these approaches.
A superficial look makes many managers believe that they are applying Kaizen, 5S, TQM and, lately, driven by a great popularization, Lean or worse still a system of production like the one created in Toyota and usually mentioned like TPS (Toyota production system).
The mistake is to assume that this can be achieved only by reproducing techniques that some consultant is going to explain or that some training will allow us to learn. The accessory takes the place of the essential and the latter becomes invisible, as in the immortal novel of Saint Exupery.
An in-depth analysis of this question goes beyond the scope of this synthetic article, but if we want to deepen this reflection to understand the true foundations of TPS, lean and the other techniques mentioned, we have to think about extraordinarily important and challenging issues for conventional systems which go far beyond applying quality tools.
I am referring to the following principles:
1. "Lifetime" employment, this approach implies that people are not dismissed because of conjuncture problems, people are not the variable for cost adjustment. If there is a crisis, this implies that it has been badly planned and those responsible are the ones who run the organization and therefore they should leave.
At the end of the 40's, Kiichiro Toyoda resigned as president of Toyota in the face of a very severe crisis that required reducing costs in order not to disappear. It would have been much easier, and reasonable for current common sense, to lay off employees and to continue. Kiichiro Toyoda chose the path of personal renunciation to get out of the situation and left a message that change the future of that company forever.
2. Decisions based on the long term, this implies that decisions are not taken because of short-term pressures. The ONLY way to successfully apply and sustain continuous improvement is to have and sustain a long-term strategy that is unconditionally maintained.
3. Consistent planning, principles 1 and 2 can only be developed from thoughtful and effective planning. Organizations cannot handle themselves as a zigzagging vehicle, giving "flips".
All this seems impractical for conventional approaches to management in the West, however, we have examples beyond Toyota and we must reflect on the extraordinary value of these issues that require more pre-action planning and greater commitment, not only in the Business plan and administration, but also from the field of ethics and principles that should be the basis of social and organizational behavior.