(This is a continuation of a series of posts on the principles of The Toyota Way.)
Technological advancements over the years have been a part of many breakthrough process improvements. Machines are delivering productivity enhancements that are physically impossible for human operators in many industries, probably most notably in the automotive and medical industries.
It isn’t that robots are paving the way toward replacing their human counterparts. It’s more that robots are optimizing more difficult portions of processes and allowing the workforce to dedicate their efforts in other areas and enhancing a process’s capabilities. It’s a fact that robots can do some functions that humans can’t…but they can’t do everything. They can’t make decisions on their own and robots depend on people to make sure they stay functional or can be improved.
So even as technology advances, there will still be a need for human abilities and minds. Without robots, humans could still do the work (but maybe less effectively). Without humans, however, robots would be severely limited in their capabilities.
Everything comes back to the human operator. Principle #8 from The Toyota Way:
“Use only reliable, thoroughly-tested technology that serves your people and process.”
One of my favorite quotes from The Toyota Way Fieldbook is “People should not be subservient to technology.” So often we get caught up in the newest technological fads, thinking the new machines or software will solve all of our problems. What we attempt to do is plop a new piece of technology in the middle of a process and expect it to fix everything, and also expect no growing pains.
The problems a team, manager, or company might experience by implementing the wrong technology in the wrong manner include wasted time, the need to un-implement the wrong solution (and costs associated with it) before re-implement the right solution, and not realizing that many of the problems the solution was expected to eliminate or reduce are actually still in place.
The way to implement new technology with the least risk of potential issues is slowly but all-encompassing – through a thorough vetting of potential technology options and isolated trial runs with sufficient training before full-scale launch. The saying “haste makes waste” is very applicable here. It is much better to take sufficient time to identify the right solution for the process than to be hasty in implementing “something.” Moving too quickly runs the risk of key concepts and training being ignored or left out inadvertently.
Think about obtaining cell phone service. You have lots of service provider options (Verizon, Spring, AT&T, etc), device options (iPhone, BlackBerry, Droid, flip phone, smart phone, touchpad, keypad, QWERTY, numerical), service types (voice, data, text, etc) that must be considered.
That’s a lot of information that must be scoured in order to make the right decision for “implementing” this technology into your life. Think about all of the factors you investigated when deciding what phone, carrier, and services to purchase. How much time did you take to decide on your technology?
Now think about the costs of doing it incorrectly. You signed up for a service plan that has a poor signal in locations where you spend most of your time, or the phone you purchased was not as user-friendly as you hoped. How expensive is it to change? You have an early-termination fee in your contract, you’ve already purchased a phone for this provider and now you must buy another phone from your next provider, and you might not be able to transfer your phone number from the old provider to the new one.
This is a big headache, but one that could have been avoided by getting plenty of sufficient information ahead of time. Talk to other folks who might be using technology you’re considering – what are their opinions? Did you know in advance how heavy the service fees would be? What did you not know about the phone you bought that you wish someone had told you?
The costs of implementing the wrong technology are unplanned and can be significant. Better to do it right the first time, and get the options and services that you know will properly serve your processes and your people (and you).