Long before Apple and Amazon were case studies as great aligned companies, there was Toyota. Toyota is a great example of how sustainable success is possible through organizational alignment. Today’s episodes focuses on one of their “secrets” to sustainable success… The Five Whys.
Toyota Industries was founded in 1926 by Sakichi Toyoda. Toyota’s original products were high speed industrial weaving looms. Toyota introduced some fundamental innovations to automated weaving that resulted in huge improvements in quality and a 20-fold increase in productivity. Later, Toyota applied this same intense focus on quality and productivity to automobiles and other industrial equipment.
For decades, other organizations have tried to reproduce Toyota’s sustainable success, by copying how they do things, a set of processes and methods we call the Toyota Production System. In the 1990’s this became known as “Lean Manufacturing” and an entire consulting industry sprang up around Lean, aiming to benchmark and copy how Toyota does things. In the past couple of decades, Lean principles have been combined with Six Sigma quality improvement principles to create “Lean Six Sigma” which is the predominant process and quality improvement methodology in use today.
People credit Sakichi Toyoda with developing an analysis technique called the “5 Whys.” Toyoda observed that, through asking “why?” several times, in a very specific way, we are able to get past the superficial symptoms of an issue and dig deep into the fundamental root cause. The 5 Whys is used extensively in process improvement disciplines such as Lean and Six Sigma. It’s also a powerful technique for building understanding, achieving consensus, and aligning teams to take action.