You might read this title and answer, "Please don't try and compare the creative process to manufacturing." You might reason that there are such large differences between a mass production manufacturing environment and our creative operations that not much would be relevant. But I think that it's far more applicable then you might imagine. After all, we are manufactures in our own right even though our creative product is customized for each client. Whether we are producing brochures or videos, we still have a consistent process that we follow to create those products.

The standard benchmark in operational excellence is the Toyota Production System (TPS). Year over Year, Toyota is widely recognized as the most efficient, most profitable and the highest quality producer. Industry-adopted production concepts and tools of Total Quality Management (TQM), Lean, Just in Time (JIT) and Continuous Improvement are all derived directly from TPS. So, I am going to ask you to keep an open mind about considering what we as creative leaders can learn from an auto manufacturer. In this blog and two follow-up pieces to be published in the subsequent weeks, I hope to give you a general overview of TPS principles, introduce the concept of continuous improvement, provide some ideas creating a learning organization culture, and finally introduce Lean so you can begin to review your own processes and look toward eliminating waste.

So, what is TPS? TPS starts with the customer and is all about transforming information and materials into something the customer wants, when they want it at the lowest possible cost with the highest quality--sounds familiar, right? It's all about identifying and eliminating waste from the value stream. TPS is organized around 14 principles, which are grouped into four categories. These principles guide every decision the company makes. Most are common sense and directly applicable to us, but even Toyota believes that these principles need to be adapted to the individual firm based on its unique set of circumstances. Let's take a look:

Long-Term Philosophy
Have a philosophical sense of purpose that supersedes any short-term decision making. And above all, focus on creating value for the customer.

  • Principle 1. Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.

Process Improvement
The right process will produce the right results. These principles are all about creating value for the customer by reducing costs and eliminating waste.
  • Principle 2. Create continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface (Lean). Redesign work processes to achieve high value-added, continuous flow. Strive to cut back to zero the amount of time that any work project is sitting idle or waiting for someone to work on it.
  • Principle 3. Use "pull" systems to avoid overproduction. (For the most part, creative organizations already practice this principle. Because we are creating custom product we therefore "Pull" our product through our production process as it is required by our customers.)
  • Principle 4. Level out the workload. Having starts and stops, overutilization then underutilization, is a problem because it does not lend itself to quality, standardization of work, productivity, or continuous improvement.
  • Principle 5. Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first time.
  • Principle 6. Standardized tasks are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.
  • Principle 7. Use visual control so problems aren't hidden. (This might be a shared dashboard or workflow/job cost tracking system showing average cycle time, error rate or estimate vs. actual by project.)
  • Principle 8. Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and processes. (Don't rush out to purchase Adobe CS6 for your whole staff on Day 1; create a pilot team to review the software and how it reacts to your templates and workflows).

Respect Value, and Grow People and Partners
  • Principle 9. Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.
  • Principle 10. Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company's philosophy.
  • Principle 11. Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve.

Continuous Improvement and Learning
Continuously solving root problems drives organizational learning
  • Principle 12. Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation.
  • Principle 13. Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly.
  • Principle 14. Become a learning organization through relentless reflection and continuous improvement.

TPS is really a philosophy and a toolbox to create lean processes and a continuous improvement culture. It works not only for Toyota but for most who relentlessly dedicate themselves to achieving its vision. It is a management philosophy that needs to be adapted to your environment and a focus on total customer satisfaction and quality output. It demands an environment of teamwork and bottom-up problem solving in a never-ending search for a better way and, in fact, puts the value-added team member(s) at the top of the hierarchy with management in support. These all sound like and are going things, but getting to this state is not easy and really should be viewed as a never-ending journey that must be led by a strong visionary leader. Do you have it in you?
Stay tuned for next week's related blog: "Creating a Learning Organization the TPS Way."

Cella Consultant Dan Mucha brings more than two decades of results-oriented thinking and a record of success to bear on every challenge. His background includes co-founding and guidance of a vanguard marketing services firm to 13 consecutive profitable years--with record performance in productivity and increased shareholder value. As a consultant Dan helps organizations with business unit strategy & planning; process evaluation & re-engineering; and financial/workflow system evaluation, design & implementation.