Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Darius Mehri's perfect 2010 description of Toyota's "poisoned chalice"

Toyota's chalice.

Back during the SUA recalls crisis in 2010, Darius Mehri wrote his thoughts in a WSJ opinion piece. He was blunt. Certainly he was not surprised at the existence of quality problems. He called the Toyota Production System a "poisoned chalice" where the overworked engineers were inevitably led to drink from the poisonous cup of safety negligence. He accurately pinpointed the difficulty of integrating the ECU software with all electronic compenents in the vehicle. 

What was true at "Nizumi," the Toyota Tier 1 supplier where he worked, was likely also true at Takata and at engine ECU supplier Denso.
"Toyota's current recall troubles have justifiably shocked customers who believed their cars were near perfect. But I am not at all surprised to learn that quality issues lurked beneath the company's pristine brand image."
"The Toyota Production System involved a punishing amount of work for its employees and parts suppliers. Projects required meeting strict design and quality goals with unyielding deadlines. It was not unusual for engineers to put in 16-hour days for several months. I remember one engineer who frequently dozed off at his computer while working on an engine analysis. Working in teams where engineers would help each other with their design work helped but it was never enough. Under conditions of unrelenting overwork, it is simply too hard for engineers to produce products without design flaws and too easy for managers to hide those flaws.
Overwork was common at most Japanese companies at that time, and from what I understand this has not changed. This is one of the main reasons for quality problems in Japanese products. Americans however rarely hear of these problems because the products are either redesigned, never make it to the American market or are discontinued. Even in the most egregious cases that involve death, it is rare for Japanese citizens to succeed in class-action lawsuits against corporations, so most companies are lax when it comes to product liability issues.In order to recapture consumer confidence, Toyota must release all the information about the process that led to the design flaws and punish those who may have hidden the problems from the public. In the long run, the company needs to restructure its employment practices to allow engineers more time to design high-quality products. This policy will require less emphasis on gaining market share, and more emphasis on building a healthy and productive work environment."

Question: Has Toyota restructured its employment practices to support quality, four years later?