(This is part of a series looking at the 14 Principles of The Toyota Way.)
This is the final principle, the one that ties the previous thirteen together.
No organization is perfect – there is always room to get better. Continuous improvement efforts are the steps organizations take to be better than they were yesterday.
But with improvement and imperfection comes learning. This will entail figuring out what went right and what went wrong, what works and what doesn’t. This means trying new ideas, seeing the impact they have (good or bad), and determining the next course of action while also remembering the results.
There is a famous saying by George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Experimentation and trying out new ideas provide little good if no learning and reflection can be drawn from the events.
Principle #14 from The Toyota Way states:
“Become a learning organization through relentless reflection and continuous improvement.”
This principle is rooted in a couple of concepts. First, it’s important to look back at what changes were implemented and what the results were, relative to what you expected. Were your projections correct? If not, how far off were they and why do you think that is?
Second, going back to the Santayana quote, it’s critical to communicate this experiment and its results to individuals and groups outside so that the information is set in an organization’s knowledge base. How can this be communicated? Meeting minutes? Experiment or engineering journals? Presentations? Documentation maintained in files? Writing a song about it?
So often we go back to root cause analysis as a tool that can provide many answers, and it’s very often true. But if you think about it, root cause analysis is essentially a reflection tool – here is our result, so let’s reflect back on what could have caused this result. And generally speaking, when root cause analysis is applied to a non-ideal result, it’s with the intent of correcting the problem and preventing it from ever happening again.
That’s reflection and implementing learnings, which is the essence of continuous improvement.