Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: “The Toyota Product Development System”

The Toyota Product Development SystemWriters and readers are in a relationship. Each has responsibilities. The writer is responsible for the structural quality of his writing such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary. (The language should be invisible in high quality writing so that the reader can focus on the content i.e. the writer’s message.) The reader is responsible for being fluent in the language to understand high quality writing.

This book should never have been published just for its atrocious quality of writing. It is filled with spelling mistakes, terrible grammar, and horrid punctuation. These issues, in addition to needless Japanese jargon, car jargon, and undefined acronyms, interrupted reading so often that I had to put the book away every few pages. This is especially frustrating as the book is fundamentally about building quality in into a product! There is no indication that this was done in the production of this book.

I am deeply interested in the product development process. Experience with several companies has shown me that their respective product development process, if it exists as such, is poorly designed, poorly defined, and not effective in operation. So I have been studying—I’ve read Stuart Pugh’s “Total Design”[1], Don Clausing’s “Total Quality Development”[2], and Ulrich/Eppinger’s “Product Design and Development”[3], among other books and papers. Given that Toyota excels at bringing great products to market quickly, I really wanted to learn and understand its approach. So it was with this intent, and Jeffrey Liker’s reputation, that I picked up “The Toyota Product Development System”[4].

The book does not deliver what its title promises. The authors do not provide a model of the product development process, instead discussing the sociotechnical system (STS) at Toyota, the V-Comm communication system, and PDVSM—product development value stream mapping to improve the product development process. This is already superbly detailed in Jeffrey Liker’s “The Toyota Way”[5]. We get it—the product development process at Toyota is grounded in its world leading STS, but what is the process specifically? The authors don’t detail the product development process as I’ve come to expect from reading Pugh, Clausing, Ulrich/Eppinger. Perhaps that is a failure on my part.

How are design inputs collected and/or developed? How are those inputs converted into engineering terminology? If Toyota doesn’t use the House of Quality, what does it use? How are engineering requirements converted into sets of concepts? There is no usable explanation of set-based concurrent engineering. For crying out loud, Jeffrey Liker wrote several papers on this! What is the method for vetting various concepts? How does detailed engineering happen i.e. converting requirements into drawings? How are those concepts verified and/or validated? What type of testing is performed or skipped? When is it done? None of the things that would help a design and development engineer to understand the design and development process at Toyota is covered in any useful way.

When these questions are touched upon, they are done so piecemeal and superficially; disconnected from one another. The authors make the reader work very hard to extract nuggets from their writing. The discussion often happens in the context of an example, but the examples require you to know car terminology! So if you don’t have experience in the automobile industry, good luck trying to figure out what the authors are trying to communicate. (Thank you Google & Wikipedia for helping me see what is meant.) The matter is made worse by the fact that an example doesn’t carry through between discussion of topics.

One final note, there is a ridiculous amount of adoration of Toyota’s results that borders on worship. I didn’t care for that, especially when what I was looking for—the description of process—was missing. I didn’t buy the book for the authors to tell me how good Toyota is and how bad everybody else is. I already know this. It is unfortunate that several masters in lean wrote rave reviews for the book. I wonder if they bothered to actually read it. I am now less inclined to be guided by their reviews and recommendations. My suggestion to you is you skip this book. It isn’t worth anyone’s time.

[1] Pugh, Stuart. Total Design. Addison-Wesley Publishers Ltd. 1991. ISBN 0-201-41639-5

[2] Clausing, Don. Total Quality Development. ASME Press: New York, NY. 1993. ISBN 0-7918-0035-0

[3] Ulrich, Karl T., and Steven D. Eppinger. Product Design and Development. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education. 2012. Print. ISBN 978-93-5260-185-1

[4] Morgan, Kames M., and Jeffrey K. Liker. The Toyota Product Development System. New York, NY: Productivity Press. 2006. Print. ISBN 1-56327-282-2

[5] Liker, Jeffrey K. The Toyota Way. New York, NY: McGraw Hill. 2004. Print. ISBN 0-07-139231-9


Book Review: “the other side of innovation: SOLVING THE EXECUTION CHALLENGE”

OtherSideofInnovationNo one can climb a mountain for you. You have to do it for yourself.

The fundamental assumption that “the other side of innovation: SOLVING THE EXECUTION CHALLENGE” is based on is that your organization is attempting innovation initiatives beyond its current capabilities. Capabilities that you are not willing to develop internally. In other words you are attempting to climb Mt. Rainier, to use the authors’ opening example, when you are neither fit for the challenge nor possess the skills for it. Think about this for a second. Contemplate the likely outcome of such an attempt. If it doesn’t kill you it will most assuredly maim you leaving you worse off for having tried.

However, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble “see no reason why established organizations should be incapable of executing any innovation initiative”. So, what is the solution these authors dictate? After 10 years of field research at “[innovative companies] as diverse as Allstate, BMW, Harley-Davidson, IBM, Nucor, and Timberland”, they recommend that you “Build the Right Team” and “Run a Disciplined Experiment”. Let us understand something clearly: it doesn’t matter how many expert mountain guides you hire or how well you plan your expedition, if you are not fit, if you do not possess the necessary skills, it will fail… disastrously. So, shame on the authors for making a flawed assumption and then impelling organizations to attempt such challenges.

To be fair, they have made valid observations of several crucial shortcomings in organizations today:

  • It is not an organization’s creativity and technology that falls short, it is its management’s capability: leaders just aren’t trained to drive innovation.
  • Organizations vest most of their innovation efforts in defining opportunity and not much in executing it. This is tied to the previous point.
  • As companies mature, they disengage from innovation efforts, relying on profit from increasing operational efficiency.

These are problems that organizations have to overcome internally through rigorous self reflection which leads to creating projects that (re)build the organization’s fitness and skills. They can thus expand their core competencies and cultivate deep domain knowledge necessary to address the total challenge of innovation. Not do it through hired outside experts or mergers and acquisitions.

Hugely successful innovation initiatives in recent memory such as Toyota’s Lexus or Scion, or Apple’s iPod, iPhone, iPad or iCloud have been internal to their respective companies. Neither Toyota nor Apple were first to market with these products. Each took its time to develop domain knowledge; stretching itself through multiple learning cycles before introducing class redefining products.

The authors underestimate and trivialize the value of such continuous improvement programs even when their own studies at Nucor and Deere & Company demonstrate successful outcomes. In fact they dismiss their own observations of successful innovation initiatives at many companies in favor of “What If?” scenarios. Never mind whether these hypothetical initiatives were ones these companies might have pursued but didn’t for lack of capability. They never say so.

The one example the authors cite where a transformative innovation initiative was required: the New York Times. But, this was necessary as the landscape of the entire newspaper industry was unexpectedly and fundamentally changed by an unaccounted force: the internet. An extremely rare event that no book or expert can help to plan for.

In any case, given that the book’s fundamental premise is faulty, the structure built upon it is rickety at best. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good ideas, but they are either poorly communicated or poorly reasoned or both. The authors assume an unjustified authoritative tone that often patronize the reader on his/her complaint (constructed in the authors’ imagination). There is a smugness in the manner they criticize their partner companies’ approach to innovation. I wonder if any of them will have these researchers back to work with them again. And, they fail to properly attribute their learning cycle – Plan-Do-Study-Act – to its developers and advocates: Walter Shewhart and W Edward Deming.

My suggestion is you pass on reading this book. It teaches the wrong lessons. Learn the proper way to execute innovation initiatives by benchmarking the best in class. Two excellent reads are “The Toyota Way” & “The Elegant Solution”. Develop your organization’s management foundations and knowledge building efforts with “Out of the Crisis”. There is a tough climb ahead, but not an insurmountable one provided you start preparing for it now.

Book Review: “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”

DriveAs I read “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” I found myself nodding my head in approval… a lot. Daniel Pink makes a compelling argument against the adequacy of commonly accepted ideas on what motivates us: ‘carrots and sticks’, and the effectiveness of management that continues to use those ideas today even after they have been debunked. He presents the findings of scientific studies conducted by thought leaders in the field of psychology, sociology, economics like Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, Carol Dweck, Dan Ariely, and Teresa Amabile as he builds his own model to describe what drives us.

Pink’s model of motivation is elegant. Made up of three parts, it is simple yet captures key factors that drive motivation:

  1. People have a desire for autonomy with respect to task, time, team and technique,
  2. People want to gain mastery over what they do, and
  3. People crave to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

It holds an intuitive appeal for me. I suspect that might be a function of the type of work I do and my experience doing it. For as long as I have been working I have been dissatisfied with the management style used by each of my employers. Among other things, I found them lacking in the way they chose to motivate. The studies Pink discusses in the book helped me understand why some of my job functions went from ‘play’ to ‘work’. They also explain why, from time to time, they reverted back from ‘work’ to ‘play’. His model crystallized what I am looking for as a knowledge worker: An opportunity to choose what I do, when I do it, with whom I do it and how I do it. An opportunity to do it well and get better at it. And, an opportunity to do it in the cause of something greater than myself.

“Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” is a well written book. Pink doesn’t make the reader work at it. He weaves stories that hook a reader and pull him along without being wiser to it. It takes lots of skill and effort to pull that off. Pink builds his case for his model of motivation logically, never losing the reader in the process. He doesn’t just cite studies, he explains their findings. Then he takes the additional step to explain the implication of those findings as he works to incorporate them into his model. So, the net result is an extremely reader friendly book that informs and educates. I place this book in the same space as Jonah Leher‘s “How We Decide“, Dan Ariely‘s “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions“, Ori Brafman‘s “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior“.


  • Check out a really wild animation of Dan Pink’s talk here.
  • Check out Dan Pink’s TED talk here.
  • Check out Dan Pink’s RSA talk here (related to the animation above).

Pursuit of Perfection

I came across “The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation” by Matthew E. May while scanning the business section at a Half Price Books store. I picked it up because the price was right, to be honest. It sat in a stack at home for months before I came across it again. I had just finished reading Daniel H. Pink’s “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” and was pondering about creativity & innovation. So, it made sense to read on the approach Toyota took. I regret not reading it sooner.

May dispels the myth that innovation happens in flashes of brilliance within a select group of people possessing an aptitude for creativity. He presents the system Toyota has in place wherein innovation and creativity are the domain of every person. Everybody is inherently creative and we would do well tap into this vast resource. But before you roll your eyes, May gives a reality check and points out that the net impact of your innovation is relative to your base of responsibility, power and control. This grows the higher you move in the organization.

In the book he reveals the three principles that fuel the engine of innovation at Toyota even today: Ingenuity in craft, Pursuit of perfection, and Fit with society. He details 10 key practices – the toolbox – that make these principles operational: Let learning lead; Learn to see; Design for today; Think in pictures; Capture the intangible; Leverage the limits; Master the tension; Run the numbers; Make Kaizen mandatory, and Keep it lean. And, he demonstrates how these principles and practices come together with various examples & anecdotes that go beyond Toyota or even the automotive industry to addressing social problems.

May takes great pains to pepper the book with quotes from figures across the spectrum of human endeavors to show that Toyota or the East didn’t invent these concepts. But, Toyota’s innovative & disciplined use of them has made it “a double threat: the world’s finest manufacturer and a truly great innovator…”

The writing is very reader friendly. I was devouring the book with speed. The structure of the book reinforces the problem solving approach. Each chapter on the 10 practices defines the Problem, identifies the Cause and presents the Solution. Each chapter ends with a section for self-reflection (Hansei): questions that I am using to exercise my brain daily. I would recommend that everyone, not just professionals, read “The Elegant Solution” at least once.