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Grand Daddy of Quality - Sakichi Toyoda - GoLeanSixSigma.com

What do you know about Sakichi Toyoda? Did you know he was born on Valentine’s Day? That he started out in the textile business? That he came up with the 5 Whys root cause guessing game? Oh, and that he founded Toyota Industries Company!?

This year would have marked Sakichi Toyoda’s 150th birthday – truly a Great Grand-Daddy of Quality. Born in Japan, Mr. Toyoda was an inventor and an industrialist known primarily for being the founder of Toyota Industries, Co., Ltd. (but he gave us so much more)!

Everyone assumes that Lean Manufacturing comes exclusively from the Toyota Production System (think Toyota Camrys), but Sakichi Toyoda had been introducing powerful Lean tools since his first company, the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works. Instead of cars, he started with textiles.

Claims to Fame – What Did He Invent?

Jidoka – Autonomous Automation:

His 1896 power loom introduced Jidoka or autonomous automation

Jidoka is also known as “intelligent automation” or “automation with a human touch.” His looms automatically stopped if a thread snapped which allowed the operator to investigate and solve the problem before starting the machine up again. There is usually an immediate fix and then, after some analysis, a more permanent fix. This concept greatly reduced defects, increased yields and was eventually woven into the Toyota Production System. Jidoka was later paired with the Andon technique which gave both the equipment and the operator the opportunity to stop the line if they suspected there was a problem.

The 4 basic steps to Jidoka are:

  1. Detect the problem
  2. Stop the equipment
  3. Fix the immediate problem
  4. Investigate and fix the root cause of the problem

The 5 Whys:

His simple technique gets to the root of problems instead of focusing on symptoms

The 5 Whys is often compared to the average conversation with a 5-year-old, but this deceptively simple method has had profoundly positive repercussions. Mr. Toyoda developed it to move past symptoms and solve problems permanently by working to uncover the root cause. Since he first came up with it, the 5 Whys has expanded to help with understanding VOC (Voice of the Customer), goal setting and decision making as well. The 5 Whys is completely ingrained in all of today’s quality efforts – there’s probably thousands of people applying the 5 Whys right now.

Little Known Facts:

  1. He was the son of a poor carpenter
  2. He is referred to as “The King of Japanese Inventors”

Toyoda at the Bahama Bistro:

Quote of the Day:

“Were the first Toyota cars made of textile?”

Putting Toyoda Into Action:

  • “We combined Jidoka and the 5 Whys in our hot sauce bottling plant”
  • “Yesterday the line stopped – and the root cause? We ran out of mangoes!”

Sakichi Toyoda’s son, Kiichiro, helped to bring Taichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, into the business and he continued building on Sakichi’s great work. He developed what is now known as Lean Manufacturing. What a wonderful and powerful legacy.

Happy Birthday Sakichi Toyoda and, since you were born on February 14th, Happy Valentine’s Day too!

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.