Process Interleaving – Lessons from Toyota Product Development System


    Automobile Design is a very intense process in a very intensely competitive industry. Design of new cars used to take five years plus, even as far back as ten years. Now the industry average is becoming around 3 years and the Toyota Prius design cycle was slightly less than two years end to end.

    These days, automobile design has been greatly helped by building different versions of cars on the same standardized, tested, proven platforms of chassis, engine, etc, The design is more about mixing and matching slight variations of basic designs with more expensive cars getting better fit and finish, reduction of noise with better mountings, door being more flush in its place etc.

    Design tasks for completely new automobiles are mixed in with updates for current model years, and you can see that the design people are kept busy throughout the year. Plus, it is a highly sequential process where the basic design paper is converted into clay models, the specs for different sub systems worked out and then the setting up of the manufacturing preparations like stell sheet stamping Dies (for doors, body panels, etc), etc to be done before production starts. So just like a business process, different steps are very sequential and deadlines are to be met without any letup. Missing any process step may mean others downstream may miss their own crucial deadlines putting an entire product line in jeopardy.

    This is where project management systems like the Toyota Product Development System can teach us two major lessons:

    a. Interveaving of Process Steps Reducing Waste of Time of Resources, especially people’s skills.

    b. Multiskilling and emphasis on Breadth of skills in addition to increase in Depth of skills.

    When one specialist in Die design is done with the design of a totally new stamping die for a new model, may immediately get a die review and redesign assignment for a Model Year update (minor changes if at all from one model year to another). This is to ensure that the resources down the Design Production Line always have something coming down the assembly line for them to work on.

    No waste of time of highly skilled, valuable resources.

    The second major aspect about the Toyota Product Development System is the incredible DEPTH of skilled people in one discipline plus increase of the BREADTH of skills in other automobile disciplines also, without fail. This will ensure decrease of mistakes in process handovers and also incredible empathy for the downstream people, A design engineer may have also spent lots of time on the manufacturing floor before coming back to design. So when they pass on designs on to manufacturing they are already aware of the potential problems and pitfalls in the next steps.

    What does this have to do with Business Processes, especially in Services? Everything. These lessons are very applicable and valuable in any business process. Most business processes are like assembly lines in that they may already be using a queue approach to managing peoples’ time within  the business process.

    However may call centers’s holy grail is First Call Resolution – resolving the customers’ problem over the phone, chat or email, the very first time. This is not possible without multiskilling. If the first level call taker can resolve problems also in addition doing call routing, in case they don’t have the skills to resolve a problem. Many problems are repetitive ones with simple answers that can be closed by the first or second level support people.

    Providing more autonomy and equipping them with multiple sets of skills goes a long way in achieving First Call Resolution.

    Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely. – Auguste Rodin