Every company wants to learn from the best. That's why business schools build their curricula around case studies and entrepreneurs gobble up books written by famous business founders. Now global manufacturing giant Toyota is sharing its decades-long experience in fine-tuning every facet of the production process, through a series of films that reveal that almost any company can make a big leap on the quality spectrum by adopting a few basic principles that are at the core of how Toyota operates. While the series highlights companies in three very different industries, Toyota has, in fact, worked with many companies in an even broader array of sectors, and in the aggregate they prove that when you open yourself to learn from the best, great things can happen.

To create the series, Toyota enlisted award-winning filmmakers to explore just how its Toyota Production System (TPS) is being used in both the private and non-profit sectors, at companies large and small.  As the films make clear, TPS is making a difference in places far beyond the showroom floor.

While each film sheds its own unique light on TPS, a single unifying message comes through: simple improvements in day-to-day operations have a huge impact, to the point where even skeptics have become believers.

From Trepidation to Tribulation

Metal fabricating firm ACE Metal Crafts, based in Bensenville, Illinois, was in a new facility and growing fast. While that sounds good, CEO Jean Pitzo describes the underlying reality as “chaotic.” Lagging turnaround times and late deliveries were threatening their customer relationships. When Pitzo told the team that Toyota was coming in to help, they were initially apprehensive. Some didn’t think that an auto manufacturer would understand their business. Others worried that they might lose their jobs.

Over the course of 18 months, Toyota’s team made simple changes that had deep and lasting impact throughout the organization. They created visible “lanes” in the shipping department, so anyone could walk in and see exactly what needed to be done and when it was due. Then the team worked through each department, improving and streamlining processes along the way.

The improvements shaved two and a half weeks off of the average turnaround time. Suddenly, ACE started winning more business, and far from anyone losing their jobs the company ended up adding 20 new employees. Now it's financially healthier than ever before, and “chaos” is a thing of the past. “It was like a miracle came through,” says ACE welder Dan Johnson.

Using Vision to Save Sight

At Harbor-UCLA Medical Center’s busy eye clinic in Torrance, California, the patient volume was overwhelming. Wait lists at the county-owned facility for the under-served were often months long. In some cases patients actually went blind as they waited for care.

While cars and healthcare may seem like wildly different businesses, they share many operational similarities. After seeing how much time clinicians wasted because of poor organization, the Toyota team incorporated simple color-coding for procedures and moved supplies closer to where they were needed. Such small improvements had an enormous impact: patient cycles were reduced by half, and the clinic doubled the number of patients it can see on a daily basis, while also improving the overall patient experience.

“Part of Toyota’s message is that this is our hospital," says Dr. Pradeep Prasad, Chief of Ophthalmology at Harbor. "They’re not going to be here to tell us how to do things. They’re going to come here and teach us how we can identify ways to make ourselves better.”

Over two years, the patient backlog was eliminated. Now, on a typical day, most patients are seen by 5:00 p.m. Eyesight is no longer threatened by wait times-;all because of the guidance Toyota provided on operational improvements .

Why Ladders Need Names

After Hurricane Katrina left a trail of devastation in southeast Louisiana, Liz McCartney and Zach Rosenburg wanted to help. They started to rebuild homes, and what began as a good-will gesture turned into the St. Bernard Project (SBP), a Chalmette, Louisiana nonprofit established in 2006 that now has operations in New York, New Jersey, New Orleans, and Missouri. 

Toyota helped SBP learn to be transparent about its challenges. Even though volunteers and donations were coming in, the organization needed to work smarter to maximize what it could do. From managing inventory to organizing projects, Toyota helped SBP continuously improve the process to get people back in their homes faster.

The changes were small and manageable. Essential information was often tucked away in computer files, so Toyota helped the team implement a system of whiteboards that let everyone see project status at a glance and act on what needed to be done. Ladders were in scarce supply, so the team named them, which helped better locate and manage them. If you think such small actions can’t make a difference, think again: Construction time was on a typical home was reduced by half.

A View to a Better Way

While Toyota doesn’t build houses, treat medical conditions, or sell fabricated metal parts directly to customers, it has helped some of the companies that do. Along the way it has shown that many of the smart things it does to build cars have surprising applicability to many different kinds of businesses.  These videos are sure to offer a lesson or two for your company, no matter what industry you're in.  Even a single tip or insight can make a big difference to your daily operations-;and inspire your own ideas a well. So take a moment to learn from the best. You'll be glad you did.


This post was created in partnership with Toyota. All opinions expressed in the post are our own and not those of Toyota.