The Toyota Way Fieldbook by David Meier Book Summary

The Toyota Way Fieldbook, A Practical Guide for Implementing Toyota’s 4Ps by David Meier and Jeffrey K. Liker


Jeffrey Liker and David Meier first explored lean methodology in The Toyota Way (2003)This companion book goes further, providing the wisdom, practical tools and examples you need to smooth your organization’s transition to lean operations. Toyota’s success as one of the world’s most profitable automakers springs from decades of building partners and networks, a continuous drive to improve and a long-term philosophy that benefits society at large. This Fieldbook may intimidate readers with its flowcharts and checklists, but true lean transformation resides in the details. Process is important and so are the people who live and breathe it.


  • The Toyota Way’s 14 principles guide firms in implementing lean practices.
  • The number one strategy for lean processes is to eliminate waste.
  • Stabilize systems before leveling out workload, which will yield “value stream flow.”
  • Stopping the line to fix a problem is more efficient than pushing the problem further down the line.
  • Identify leaders in your company who live the philosophy and can teach it.
  • Organizational learning demands continuously solving root problems.
  • The value stream system extends to suppliers and partners, challenging them to improve.
  • The Toyota Way requires effort and commitment but revolutionizes organizations.
The Toyota Way Fieldbook

The Toyota Way Fieldbook Book Summary

The Toyota Way’s 14 principles guide firms in implementing lean practices.

The Toyota Way is an improvement method that groups its 14 Principles under the overarching, hierarchical “Four Ps” – “philosophy, process, people and partners, and problem solving.” The Four Ps provide your organization with a framework and reinforce one another. With this guiding philosophy, your company can streamline processes, work effectively with associates and suppliers, and solve problems more easily.

“Top management must realize that lean is more than a set of tools and techniques. It is a way of thinking about the very process of management.”

You cannot switch to lean production simply by focusing only one part of your company or adding-on tools or strategies – the processes and principles of lean must become deeply embedded in your organization’s culture.

Companies worldwide have adopted the technical processes and philosophy of lean, to great success. They encompass: waste elimination; identifying areas of instability; “value stream mapping”; the “pull” system using kanban; leveling production; building a culture that halts processes to fix problems; using technology to augment human work; and creating great leaders from within the organization.

The number one strategy for lean processes is to eliminate waste.

Many companies who want to “get lean” seek visible improvements as quickly as possible. But you can’t become lean by reducing waste in one cell; the waste elimination process means taking a longer-term perspective. Principle 2 espouses the basis of the Toyota Way: “Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface.” That means accepting discomfort and short-term pain for long-term gain.

To identify waste, it is necessary to map your processes and eliminate any that do not add value.

“The focus in mass manufacturing is in getting the mass. In lean the focus is on eliminating waste.”

There are eight types of “non-value-added” waste: “1) overproduction, 2) waiting (time on hand), 3) transportation or conveyance, 4) overprocessing or incorrect processing, 5) excess inventory, 6) unnecessary movement, 7) defects and 8) unused employee creativity and learning capacity.”

Overproduction is the mother of all waste. Toyota finds the “mass” part of mass production to be inefficient and costly. In contrast, a lean process is flexible in response to customer demand. It features a quick turnover rate and connected processes.

Value stream mapping is a visual tool to help firms determine the steps they need to take to get where they want to be. This problem-solving method starts with defining the situation. Then, identify your goal. The aim is to determine the gap between what currently exists and what is desirable. Identify separate “flow loops” for each value stream. These streams have certain requirements, such as the rate of customer demand, volume, the desired model mix and production sequence. This “current state mapping” activity reveals where your processes don’t meet these specifications.

Stabilize systems before leveling out workload, which will yield “value stream flow.”

As you map, you’ll determine where your processes lack efficiency. Work to stabilize them, level them to “clear the clouds,” and see what needs to be done. Your value stream map will help to unveil your ideal “future state” system. You will improve it continuously. The map will facilitate “one-piece” flow: a tightly linked process that starts from the end of the line and works backward, with workers or customers pulling the item they need at the time they need it. The “pull” system is an agreement between the supplier and the customer regarding limits on the volume of products, model mix and sequence flow.

“Underlying value stream mapping is a philosophy of how to approach improvement. The philosophy is that we need to straighten out the overall flow of the value stream.”

After stabilizing your system, proceed to the leveling (heijunka) stage, where you coordinate “product volume, product mix and product sequence.” Rank your products by demand, giving priority to the most in-demand, then introducing less in-demand products into the flow.

Using this method, a plant can produce 250 of its most popular products, 220 of the next popular and 35 of the least popular, every day. Larger companies with many products should make a schedule to distribute the products over two, four and six days, for example. Toyota uses a monthly window. This leveling is the foundation of a value stream system. Toyota adheres tightly to heijunka to honor its agreement with the customer: Produce what is needed when it is needed. As Principle 6 states, “Standardized tasks are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.”

Stopping the line to fix a problem is more efficient than pushing the problem further down the line.

In mass production, the cheaper the cost per unit, the better the value. Defective products get discarded. In a lean system, defects equal waste, and workers have the power to stop the line when a problem occurs. As Principle 5 says, “Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first time.”

If you have a value stream flow, buffers and pacesetters monitor the line and accommodate stoppages to fix defective equipment. Unlike in the West, Toyota’s employees do not get blamed for problems. They are praised for identifying them and helping to find solutions. Leaders take responsibility for errors, because Toyota regards mistakes as systemic, not the fault of the worker.

“The Toyota Way always starts with the assumption that an error is a failure of the system and methods that are used to perform the work.”

To help identify issues on the line, Toyota advises in Principle 7 to: “Use visual control so no problems are hidden.” These can be signs or lights that signal what is happening. Label everything, identify parts and keep quantities consistent. For example, Toyota keeps its standardized procedures visible in work areas. It audits standard procedures continuously and produces easy-to-read charts and graphs to illustrate if it deviates and why. Standardized practice ensures product quality and workplace safety, and provides the baseline for continuous improvement (kaizen).

Toyota production lines feature some of the most sophisticated equipment in the world. But the technology is not in charge; people are in charge of the technology. Principle 8 counsels that technology should be reliable, well-tested and suitable to your needs. Expensive technology can cost more in waste in the long run. Since most information technology is a “push” system imposed from above, it is often focused more on its own process than on the work process. For example, a company that relies on expensive inventory-tracking technology may save more money and time by simply reducing inventory. Technology must serve the lean directive: Eliminate waste.

Identify leaders in your company who live the philosophy and can teach it.

At Toyota, Principle 9 enshrines the aim of finding and cultivating the best people: “Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.” 

There are leaders at every level at Toyota. Leadership begins with objectives and expectations, and divides into three areas of responsibility: 1) support for operations, 2) promotion of the system and 3) leading change.

As in all of Toyota’s operations, continuous improvement is the goal. There are four key performance indicators that guide those in charge: “safety, quality, productivity and cost.” Qualities that define good leaders include a willingness to lead, the ability to improve and a capacity to teach. Those with many years’ experience and knowledge become teachers, or sensei, whom team members respect for their wisdom and ability to see the bigger picture.

“It is part of the Toyota culture that every leader is a teacher. And the teaching approach is learning by doing.”

Because employee commitment and success are so important at Toyota, it invests time and money in training, tracking performance and building “quality circles” to solicit suggestions and feedback. These groups “learn by doing” in cultivating their people. Because Toyota prefers internal promotion, its leaders look to their workforce for future leaders, expecting them to pass on their knowledge of the Toyota Way, and to ensure continuity and consistency. That fits Principle 10: “Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy.”

Organizational learning demands continuously solving root problems.

At Toyota, learning requires reflection and action. Problem solving is the fourth of the 4Ps, and every obstacle provides opportunity for streamlining, such as buying new equipment or training staff. Everyone is responsible for solutions, and it’s important to define the problem before jumping to solutions that aren’t really solutions. For instance, a robot that constantly breaks down on a line may appear to be the problem. Closer analysis reveals the real problem: The process can’t meet demand without incurring overtime. The robot may be one reason among many others for the problem, but not the problem itself.

“Even Toyota has to work hard to maintain the Toyota Way, and it has particularly struggled to spread the true Toyota Way outside of Japan. It is continuous hard work.”

Finding root causes takes time and deliberation and usually starts with Principle 12: “Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation.” 

Having visual data helps. Toyota outlines its problem-solving process on what it calls the “A3 One-Page Report,” an easy-to-understand snapshot. It includes ”the problem definition and description; problem analysis; implementation plan; results; and future steps.” The A3 One-Page usually features charts and graphs to illustrate exactly what is happening.

With this document, problem solvers seek agreement as per Principle 13: “Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly.” Putting work into identifying the correct problem and then proposing solutions inspires greater confidence at the implementation stage, which is usually performed through simulations. Be prepared to unearth further possibilities for refinement upon solving the problem.

The value stream system extends to suppliers and partners, challenging them to improve.

In the 1980s, quality control became important in light of Toyota’s success. Suddenly, getting the best price for a widget wasn’t as important as getting the best widget, because a faulty part costs much more money in the long run, in warranty expenses, for example. To partner with Toyota, a supplier must adhere to Toyota’s own high quality standards. The supplier relationship is codependent: In the just-in-time production system, every element is crucial, because the system is fragile. Any faults in the supply chain accelerate and amplify because every piece is interdependent. Stability is paramount.

“A contract from Toyota is like getting admitted to a top university – the best in the business.”

Suppliers bring value not only through their products but also from their expertise and innovative capacity, from which both parties benefit. This relationship starts with trust and mutual understanding, then grows to encompass shared learning opportunities, “interlocking structures” and “compatible capabilities.” The Toyota Way extends outward and infiltrates all of its partners’ operations. Suppliers celebrate when they receive a Toyota contract because it enhances their reputation, and they learn, up close, the Toyota Way philosophy. Toyota invested years of training and development to bring their United States’ counterparts to the lean standard. This is a huge investment, but Toyota believes in the long-term mutual benefits that lean nourishes. 

In developing a “lean extended enterprise,” be a role model for the lean production system; maintain your core in-house competencies (for example, engineering); avoid expensive and inefficient bureaucracy; build your relationships incrementally; and learn together how to continuously improve. Toyota does not accept bids based on price, but on quality and delivery metrics. In thus avoids the negative impacts lower prices incur, such as defects, shortages and lack of innovation.

The Toyota Way requires effort and commitment but revolutionizes organizations.

Lean transformation is a political process. Astute leaders know that asking people to change, take risks and share the leader’s vision is difficult. Leaders can’t simply say they want to be lean, they must commit time and resources to it and gain middle-management commitment. Generally, it’s often easier to change what people do than to change what people think. Doing the right thing, even if it is the more difficult thing, is more satisfying and produces results. This is the essence of Principle 14: “Become a learning organization through relentless reflection (hansei) and continuous improvement (kaizen).”

“Always remember the frequent admonitions and challenge that is issued at Toyota: “Please try” and “Do your best.”

The Toyota Way isn’t a recipe to follow – it is a philosophy. Its methods helps companies worldwide eliminate waste, understand the value of standardization and develop a passion for putting customers first. Toyota spent decades building relationships to become the world’s most successful car company. To embrace The Toyota Way when lean transformation is difficult, “Please try” and “Do your best.”

About the Authors

Dr. Jeffrey K. Liker, Professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering at the University of Michigan, wrote the international bestseller, The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer. Founder and president of Lean Associates, Inc. David Meier co-authored – with Liker – The Toyota Way Fieldbook and Toyota Talent: Developing Your People the Toyota Way.

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