Hi, my name is Jeff Liker. I’ve been a professor at the University of Michigan for the last thirty years in industrial and operations engineering. When I first got here, I got involved in an extensive study comparing the u.s. and Japan’s many industries. Trying to understand why the Japanese were building better quality, they did it with fewer engineering hours and fewer people with less inventory. As a result, they could make money on small cars. That led to a complete change in my thinking about the field of industrial engineering.
I started to see it as less a toolkit for improving processes and more like a total system that included people and processes. Ultimately that led about ten years ago to my publishing the Toyota Way, and the Toyota way is organized. There’s a set of 14 management principles, and those are grouped into four levels of a pyramid. The bottom level is the philosophy, which looks long-term at building a great company that consistently satisfies your customers and changes as the market and the environment change. The second is processes that we’re used to in Industrial Engineering as what we’re trying to improve.
The way it’s done within lean is that people who are doing the work are responsible for improving the processes. So the role of the industrial engineer or the role of some lean expert becomes a facilitator to those people improving those processes, and the way they do that is through a defined problem-solving process. The problem-solving process came from dr. Deming and its plan-do-check-act PDCA and PDC repeatedly turn you from a static organization that influenced tools to a dynamic learning organization. One of my colleagues put it that lean does turn traditional industrial engineering as Frederick Taylor founded it on its head and where Frederick Taylor.
So I Industrial Engineering as experts who go into processes and then make those processes more fish eye lens sees the people in the processes as really driving the improvement, and that’s really kind of the message of the towed away and all the books I’ve written since.
Industrial engineers can play a crucial role but have a much broader view of systems and where people become the center of those systems rather than just an add-on or something to eliminate to become more efficient.