TPS arrived in Mexico in the 80’s. Specifically in the northwest, which was
considered for 2 decades the world capital of television. Plants of Sony, Hitachi, Sanyo, Panasonic and others had warehouses with up to 6,000 employees. The Japanese staff in those times was significant and everyone was already talking about TPS.
Right around that time (1994) I got my first job as a project engineer at Sanyo and from day one I was bombarded by terms like GEMBA, Pokayoke and kanban. Years later, as an engineering manager at SONY, I was able to visit Japan multiple times and receive more formal management training.
The pressure to reduce costs caused the Japanese staff to return to Japan and their positions were occupied by Mexicans. They did a good job because they knew the system and also they had been left running. Eventually they moved to other companies, mainly
western countries where TPS was non-existent. They tried to implement it and failed. It turned out not to be so easy.
At the end of the 90’s, James Womack’s LEAN arrived and caused a great stir. However, that LEAN was an incomplete version of TPS that only focused on the flow of materials.
Womack was an academic, having never worked in a factory or had any responsibility management, his interpretation of TPS fell victim to that training. However, LEAN seemed work well if companies already had a quality management system working effectively and the new focus on material flow made a lot of sense.
But if there wasn’t a strong quality culture, LEAN efforts led nowhere. The LEAN of these times was very elitist, a few participated and in many cases the culture within organizations was still toxic.
The multiple failure stories of LEAN forced managers to revisit the concepts of TPS and little by little have been finding and integrating missing elements, as well as many ex Toyota executives joined the movement and enriched it, the complete formula still not synthesized, but progress is being made and one of the most important discoveries important has been that learning TPS from the Japanese and wanting to implement it as they worked for them at a western organization is itself a formula for failure.
There is a new wave of TPS consultants trained by JICA (The international cooperation agency of Japan) that they will soon find that their method is not going to get them anywhere, because that formula was developed for a different culture. We are not Japanese, nor do we want to be. Our values are different, what motivates us is different, and our way of thinking too.
The key to successfully implementing TPS in Latin America is to tropicalize it to our idiosyncrasy. Using the TPS model not as a map that tells us the exact route, but rather like a compass that points us to true north and lets the organizations define their own path. It is in this process that learning occurs.
A first recommendation is to stop calling it TPS (Toyota Production System). for several reasons, but the most important is that we are not Toyota, nor do we make cars and It is also not a good idea to advertise a brand for free. It is best to give a name to the initiative that generates a sense of ownership. Something like Plamex Production System, or Mabamex Production System, or simply call it LEAN or lean manufacturing.
Yeah LEAN has not worked, we have to make it work! There is growth and learning in that. Not by calling it TPS is going to work magically. True, LEAN is not TPS, nor should it be, but the principles of TPS, which we know work
they must be included in the LEAN model and more importantly, they must be enriched. I am a fan of TPS, I have been studying it very closely for over 20 years and have witnessed the evolution from Womack LEAN to the new LEAN 4.0 and what I see gives me hope that each time we have a more robust and compatible administration system with our culture, that is effective in helping organizations to be more competitive and that is sustainable.
TPS is not the way and many have already learned it, but not all, and not all they learn from someone else’s head and will have to experience failure for themselves. if they sell you the TPS formula that was developed for Japanese and who do not consider the reality of your culture, tell them “no thanks”.