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Take a Spin with Toyota--Dickeson

January 2005

And how would a press feeder suddenly feel if given the monthly income statement and balance sheet of his company? Would the feeder know how to make a better decision? I believe he would after several months' indoctrination in the relationship of numbers in financial statements—several months! People are smarter than we give them credit for being.

And how would the estimator in a printing plant feel if you showed him or her that budgeted hourly rates had only traces of reality. It'd take months, if ever, to bring him/her to the realization that hourly costs of a job don't relate to the income statement.

Okay. Follow Jack Stack if you will, but be prepared for a year or two to change the culture of the company. And answer the question of whether or not you want people to rely on budgeted hourly rates in making decisions.

Or, let's say that you believe in the logic of a Toyota system and want to follow it in your plant. Before you make that first move, I strongly suggest that you read "Learning to Lead at Toyota" by Steven Spear in the Harvard Business Review of May 2004. Follow Bob Dallis, a highly trained and experienced man, through his three months of training to become an upper level manager of a Toyota plant in this country.

The "Toyota Way" isn't easily learned, although it is highly effective in increasing the productivity, and continuing to increase the productivity, of an automobile factory. Then ask yourself if your company has the astounding culture of a Toyota that has been polishing and perfecting its paradigm since the 1980's.

Maybe you do have that nested culture of experimentation at the worker level of your plant—but I doubt it. The Toyota paradigm is revolutionary and it's little wonder that it has become the foremost auto manufacturer in the world.

Okay. So let's try the GE system of Six Sigma quality in your plant. But first we should get someone trained as a "black belt" in the system so that we have someone who can adapt it to the plant and tell us where to start, what data we should be collecting, how we should report it, and so on.

I've read several different treatises on Six Sigma and still can't say I understand it. I know the method looks at a manufactured product from a customer's point of view, not the plant's. It looks at the failure rate of a product at a very, very high level.

Six sigma is operational at a very few commercial printing plants. I can't tell you how effective it's been or the impact on net revenues. But I will say that I sure like the sound of it. It's bound to please customers, if you can make it work. In fact there's something good to be said about nearly all of these modern systems. We know that Toyota is gaining market share annually from domestic competitors. It really pains me that we in printing are still laboring with these ancient systems for our daily decisions.

About the Author

Roger Dickeson is a printing consultant in Sylmar, CA. He can be reached at You can receive a free copy of his book Monday Morning Manager by requesting a copy by e-mail.


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