Discipline in Lean Systems: Is discipline a consequence or are our consequences driven by discipline?

I think it is interesting how words in the English language can have multiple meanings and how their use automatically makes us think in specific ways. Discipline and consequence are two such words. Sometimes, discipline is a consequence when a punishment for wrongdoing. Because of this correlation, both words seem to have a negative effect on our thinking.

However, when establishing a Lean culture, both of these words are very positive and should be stressed as factors for a successful Lean implementation.
Throughout my years with Toyota, I have learned that discipline is not about punishment, but about steadfastly following standards and systems. It is a daily necessity to ensure we have good consequences, or good results. I remember being a new Team Member at the plant in Kentucky. I was hired as a Team Member for the start of second shift when TMMK was a new facility. We were just beginning to separate the two shifts, so all of second shift was coming in two hours after the first shift started. When the first shift left for the day, we would run a few cars on our own.

Most of our day was spent learning new processes online, in classroom settings learning the unique methods Toyota used and studying 5S. Every day, we had some time between when the first shift ended and when the line would restart. During this time, we were tasked with taping. Most of us did not really understand why we were pulling up tape we put down the day before, just to put the same color tape back on the floor. But we did it. Looking back, I understand that we were learning a very important lesson.
We all know that the foundation of TPS is standardization. The tape on the floor was there for a reason. It identified where items that were not bolted down were supposed to be, where there were hazards from moving equipment, and where our fixed stop positions and starting points for each process were located. Along with the condition of the tape on the floor, there were standards for each of these items (color of tape, length of the marking, etc.). This is what 5S gives us: the standards that allow us to recognize abnormality.

Checking and replacing the tape each day taught us the importance of maintaining these standards so we could grasp the abnormalities. We became disciplined in maintaining these standards by repeatedly checking and replacing the tape.

Since the foundation of TPS is standardization, we must teach discipline to maintain this standardization. The way to achieve this is not through punishment, but through repetition and coaching. It seems that in our society, rules are made to be broken. When I teach basic Lean, I emphasize discipline by asking the class how many of them drove the speed limit on the way to work that morning. So far, I have not had anyone claim to have done so. In a couple of classes, I have even had people admit to receiving tickets on the way to work that morning.

Standards, in the form of traffic laws, are established and communicated. The standards are in place for everyone’s safety. Most people only think about the risk of one minor consequence: the punishment of getting a ticket. Many do not understand that the true reason behind the standard is to decrease the chance of a major consequence, such as an accident leading to potential injury or death. The key is that it is up to us to be disciplined to follow the standards in order to increase the potential of a positive consequence.

Discipline in the Lean environment is important because of the positive impact it has on the operations. When we teach discipline and put systems in place to ensure it is present in operations, standardization gives us predictability and repeatability. This in turn gives us a safe operation with good consequences: a high quality product that can meet our production and cost targets. We teach the importance of standardization to students of Lean.

We explain why standardization is important in a Lean environment. With it, we can see abnormality, solve problems and kaizen. We should spend more time in teaching discipline. Many companies spend time and money to learn the tools, but discipline is much more engrained in the culture of Lean. In order to ensure that discipline is taught to each employee, coaching on the floor must be done by all levels of leadership. Learning to be disciplined as people begin their Lean journey is the only way they will successfully move in the right direction along that path of finding good consequences.

pagePage Lewis
Page is a Lean specialist helping companies in the areas of both Manufacturing and Administration. Throughout his career, Page has been trained and mentored by Toyota Sensei, literally growing up enveloped in the culture of People Development and Continuous Improvement.