The Toyota Production System: Rule 4 – All or None

group of men in red hardhatsBy Chuck Gault, Max Coating President

From the previous post, The Toyota Production System – Why is it so hard to implement, we discussed how it was easy to get caught up in the tools of the system. For Max Coating, we realized we had the tools. What we also realized was that we were missing the rules of the Toyota Production System. The rules go a little something like this:

Rule 1:  All work shall be highly specified and standardized.

Rule 2:  Every connection must be direct, and there must be an easy yes-or-no way to communicate.

Rule 3:  The pathways in the plant (and supply chain) must be simple and direct.

Rule 4:  Any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method, under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest possible level in the organization.

For us, it boils down to Rule 4.  Think about what it says: improvements must be made at the lowest possible level.  Most organizations have that the other way around.  Don’t all great ideas come from management?  That is not what Toyota thinks.

And neither does Max Coating.  For us the best ideas come from the team on the shop floor.  Those people know so much about our processes and what we can do to make them better.  The challenge is to create an environment and culture that promotes the idea of the shop floor leading management in continuous improvement, not the other way around.

Get Rule 4 right and Max Coating has a chance to be a world class company.  Forget about Rule 4 and we are destined to join the ranks of those who tried TPS and lean manufacturing and decided it was just another flavor-of-the-month idea.

So even though Toyota has given us their TPS manual, there are still plenty of challenges on this journey.  Maybe Rule 4 will give you something to think about along the way.

For more information on the Toyota Production System, visit

Birmingham, Alabama-based Max Coating is a leader in the metal finishing industry and provides electrocoating and powder coating services for automotive, industrial and agricultural manufacturers. Learn more at