Friday, February 12, 2010

Excellence vs. Perfection

Some thoughts...

I've been asked several times this week, "What do you think of Toyota now?"

I would like to emphasize that I do not, nor have I ever, claimed to be an expert on Toyota Motor Company or the Toyota Production System (TPS). I am, however, extremely interested in change across a variety of scales; The Model for Improvement, Lean methodology, statistical process control (SPC) and the pursuit of excellence through continuous learning and improvement.

In considering the question about Toyota, I reflected on my time at the IHI and the many hours spent with Jim Conway. During his tenure as the COO of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, it was his job to respond to the tragic events that resulted in the death of Boston Globe health reporter Betsy Lehman. The institution had always prided itself on being a center of excellence. The event devastated all involved. The error involved breakdowns in standard processes and raised issues of trainee supervision, nursing competence, and order execution. Like only a handful of organizations at that time, the leadership team at Dana-Farber led their organization, and the nation, into a new era of introspection and transparency inviting patients and families into the planning and design of Dana-Farber's systems.

That said, it should come as no surprise to you that when our organization faced a tragic event that resulted in the death of a patient in our Emergency Department this summer, I immediately turned to my mentor Jim and asked, "How does an organization best face, own, respond to and recover from such an event?" This was only after I asked myself the following:
How could something this devastating happen here at a place where we don't just try and get by, but we aim to be the best?

What do I tell the staff who work so hard and so well every day?

How do we shed the shame, the embarrassment and how do we learn so this never happens again?
He said, "Never forget that excellence is not the same as perfection and within the gap between them sometimes lies tragedy. That is why learning and improvement must be an enduring attribute of your system."

Returning to the original question I've been asked so many times this past week, "What do I think about Toyota now?"

I think they're not perfect.

Be well,

I did post on Toyota in the fall. You can find that post Grasping for Salvation: Is the Mighty Toyota Falling here.

Some suggested readings from Steve Spear:
"3 Questions: Steven Spear on Toyota’s Troubles,” conducted by the MIT News Office.
"Toyota: Too Big, Too Fast," by Gordon Pitts
in The Globe and Mail (February 5, 2010)
"Learning from Toyota's Stumble,"
e-article at HarvardBusiness.Org.
for preface, forward, intro, and blog.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, it is so easy to kick the one on the ground! You are right though, it is not about perfection. It is about improving actively! Becoming a better entity, and it all starts with me. I still think the system is great, but any system is just as good as the people implementing and running it. Let's learn and not drop the guard. We started... Let's keep at it! NO SURRENDER!