It’s hardly news that Toyota are the leading lights of lean.  But some of the literature explaining what that means is a little bit heavy going, and there is an inevitable tendency to reinterpret the Toyota experience through our own organisational culture and collective management style – even though those are the two things which most need to change if it is ever to become more than Just Another Management Fad.

A recent article in Fast Company gives a really good (and fairly short) account of life in one of Toyota’s US factories

So you can buy the books, you can hire the consultants, you can
implement the program, you can preach business transformation–and you
can eventually run out of energy, lose enthusiasm, be puzzled over why
the program failed to catch fire and transform your business, put the
fat binders on a conference-room shelf, and go back to business as

What happens every day at Georgetown, and throughout Toyota, is
teachable and learnable. But it’s not a set of goals, because goals
mean there’s a finish line, and there is no finish line. It’s not
something you can implement, because it’s not a checklist of
improvements. It’s a way of looking at the world. You simply can’t lose
interest in it, shrug, and give up–any more than you can lose interest
in your own future.

That means the game is played on many levels:

The work is really threefold: making cars, making cars better, and
teaching everyone how to make cars better. At its Olympian best, Toyota
adds one more level: It is always looking to improve the process by
which it improves all the other processes.

Well worth reading the whole thing.