Kaizen at Hyperspeed

You might not have heard of Project Planning & Management. But given their expertise at taking on complex cross-departmental challenges that directly affect profitability, you should.

April 23, 2019
Silo Buster -- Chad Larson leads a team that, increasingly, is realizing tangible productivity gains across the organization. "We pull people together to produce a positive result," says the PPM senior manager.

“If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
 
Chad Larson, senior manager in Project Planning & Management, likes to say that.
 
A lot.
 
“The team gets a little tired of hearing it, but it’s true,” he says. “Our work requires a tremendous amount of perseverance and strong problem-solving skills.”
 
That’s because, for over 20 years, PPM has shouldered the challenging task of shepherding virtually every major North American project — such as vehicles, engines, transmissions and new plant start-ups — from start to finish. We’re talking about incredibly complex endeavors that can span several years, cost millions of dollars and involve team members across multiple functions with various expertise.
 
To be clear, PPM doesn’t make the things Toyota sells. Rather, it charts the path that makes those things possible. And it ensures that each of the stakeholders who have a role to play stay the course.
 
“We lead the organization in creating the project master schedule and conduct milestone meetings to confirm project progress,” says Larson. “When the project falls behind schedule, we pull together all the key stakeholders to assess risk and establish a recovery plan to ensure our products are delivered to our customers on-time and with the highest level of quality.”
 
A Unifying Force
 
This skill set places PPM on the leading edge of the One Toyota transformation. On a daily basis, this tightly knit group of about 60 team members interacts and coordinates with colleagues across the entire organization. It tackles complex problems that often require rising above the formal org chart and breaking out of the informal silos to arrive at the best solutions. Along the way, PPM is learning what it takes to more fully unify TMNA’s corporate cultures and get all oars rowing in the same direction.
 
So, for example, PPM collaborated with Parts Distribution & Accessory Development to facilitate process changes that have led to more accessories being installed during the vehicle manufacturing process rather than being installed after the vehicle is built.  This shift to in-line accessories has reduced installation time and saved the company a lot of money.
 
Streamlining Processes -- Jake Leonetti and his colleagues have already saved more than 8,000 work hours annually. "We're looking for ways to become more efficient," says the PPM manager.

Mission Possible: Process Improvement
 
More recently, PPM formed a Process Improvement team (PI) to take on a much bigger mission: finding ways to move the needle on productivity.
 
“This effort was inspired with the One Toyota initiative with team members from four different companies coming together in one campus location,” says PPM Manager Jake Leonetti. “While encouraging greater collaboration, innovation and faster decision making, it prompted us to address our existing processes and look for ways to become more efficient.”
 
They focused on four areas:
 
  • Eliminate work that doesn’t add value
  • Streamline work to maximize its value
  • Automate work using software and technology tools like Robotics Process Automation
  • Realign work to the appropriate group to boost efficiency
To optimize their efforts, they adopted a Scrum Agile Management approach that’s become commonplace within IT but is just beginning to migrate over to other business sectors. PPM is one of the first TMNA headquarter’s business functions to go this route.
 
The key concept is a much shorter and faster cycle of change — what the team refers to as a sprint. It starts with an idea of how something might be done differently to reduce time or cost while also potentially increasing quality. Next, a development team (consisting of PPM members and stakeholders) is formed to gather customer input, estimate the business value (hours saved) and implement the idea quickly.  Once the idea is put into practice, the development team follows up with the customer to validate the change and gain any feedback which can lead to further improvements.
 
Typically, all of the above happens in just two weeks. In other words, Agile Management is a form of kaizen — but at hyperspeed.
 
On the Leading Edge -- The core of PPM's Process Improvement team includes (left to right)  Chad Larson, Emmilee Crowell, Lena Moulkers, Trang Pham and Jake Leonetti.

8,000 Hours Saved…and Counting
 
It’s working. Their efforts over the past eight months have yielded an 11 percent efficiency gain, which will save PPM more than 8,000 hours annually.
 
But it doesn’t stop there. 
 
PPM recently formed a cross-functional PI task force to tackle more complex and challenging kaizens that impact multiple stakeholders beyond PPM, including several TMNA R&D functions. Together they are working on a kaizen to reduce the number of drawing coordination meetings between designers and suppliers. Typically, a major vehicle project will have more than 100 such meetings. A trial of the new process reduced that down to just one meeting. This change alone could save the company an estimated 2,200 hours per year. 
 
Randy Stephens, GVP of Product Development, is among those in PI’s growing fan club.
 
“The Process Improvement team has quickly embodied the Toyota Way philosophies of ‘challenge’ and ‘kaizen,’ and is collaborating across boundaries to make real change,” he says. “Their work is essential to the future of the company. We must improve our core business and prepare for the mindset shift to a mobility company.”
 
Michael Bauer, Senior Manager Supplier Engineering and Development, is an integral part of the PI team.

"The drawing coordination initiative challenged us to agree to a new approach to something we've done the same way for many years," he says. "It required multiple groups to move out of their comfort zones, reflect on the old method and consider what's best for the company. As we implement the new process, we're going to experience new challenges. But as a team, we'll be able to resolve these issues and make this initiative a win-win for customers, supplier partners and Toyota."
 
Along the way, Project Planning & Management’s profile — and its impact on the company’s profitability — will to continue to rise.
 
“We tend to take our skill set for granted,” says Larson. “But it’s amazing how, when we collaborate with other groups, it opens their ideas to new ways of doing things and we are able to accomplish so much more together. PPM was originally formed to manage manufacturing projects. But, going forward, I think we can be a resource throughout the organization — pulling people together across the pillars to produce a positive result. We’re here to help.”
 
By Dan Miller

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