The Toyota Production System – Why is it so Hard to Implement?

By Chuck Gault, Max Coating President

For over six decades the Toyota Production System (TPS) has been marveled at by the outside world as the best way to produce products in an efficient manner.  Honda, Mercedes, BMW, John Deere, and pretty much every other significant OEM have their own system, but it is hard for even them to argue that their systems are not largely based on TPS.  It is the global standard in manufacturing.

So what is keeping all of us, big or small, from implementing TPS next week?  It is not like Toyota is keeping some deep, dark secret from us.  In fact, Toyota’s own website offers a fine tutorial, not to mention the countless books, magazine articles, podcasts and other resources that are just a click away.

Like many manufacturing companies, Max Coating started down the path of TPS years ago.  We quickly embraced the concepts of lean manufacturing, continuous improvement, just-in-time, and visual shop floor.  We had some initial gains, then the inevitable setbacks.  We were reminded that TPS is a “journey”, not a destination.  That helped, but the question still remained: Why is this so darn hard?

We Love the Tools

My latest theory, although not completely original is this:  When most of us get exposed to TPS for the first time we get caught up in the tools.  It is really hard not to.  Max Coating was certainly guilty of going right to the shop floor with 5S, kaizen and kanban among others.  The first week or two things were fine, but over time most improvements were not being sustained.  But isn’t TPS all about the tools?  Aren’t the tools what all those books are about?  So what did we miss?

What About the Rules?

For Max Coating what we missed was the rules of TPS.  They are separate from the tools.  They go 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.

Wow.  Digesting all those rules is a bit more challenging than labeling the spot where we keep the broom!

Which rule is the most important to Max Coating? You’ll have to come back next week and see!

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