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The Article Overview – Another Look at How Toyota Integrates Product Development Essay

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Updated: Jul 23rd, 2021

The article overview

Sobek, II, D.K., Liker, J.K. & Ward, A.C. (1998). Another look at how Toyota integrates product development. Harvard Business Review, 76(4), 36-49.

The present article deals with peculiarities of product development in Toyota. Sobek et al. (1998) also compares Toyota’s strategies with strategies used at US companies. The authors reveal the most effective strategies that can be used to improve the process of product development.

Sobek et al. (1998) claim that Toyota combines functional and project-based structures. At that, Toyota manages to create the necessary balance which is beneficial for the process of product development. Thus, the authors argue that engineers in Toyota work in certain groups on different projects without ignoring their primary functions.

Sobek et al. (1998) state that the secret of their success lies in proper communication. Thus, the groups use written and oral communication. Again, Toyota has created the balance between two forms of communication. The authors also note that one of the advantages of strategies used by Toyota is precise supervision.

One of the greatest achievements of the company, in the author’s opinion, is a specific type of supervision. Thus, chief engineers encourage engineers to find solutions rather than simply provide their strict instructions. Importantly, chief engineers at Toyota do not have much control over engineers, i.e. they cannot simply reject this or that solution, though they have a great authority so their opinion matters.

This leads to effective communication between supervisors and engineers. Moreover, chief engineers do not stop developing their technical expertise, so their authority is sound. Another advantage of strategies used in Toyota is the use of flexible standards. Thus, the company has particular standards which enable every engineer to check whether everything is done right.

However, the checklists are often up-dated which makes the standards always up-to-date. Besides, Sobek et al. (1998) note that the company pays much attention to consumer’s needs. Thus, the company’s employees have to sell cars for some time to acknowledge what consumers may need.

Finally, the authors also conclude that the strategies used at Toyota can be effective for this company only, in other words, these strategies can be inapplicable for other settings. Nonetheless, the researchers also note that some techniques can be effectively used by US car manufacturers.

Key points

One of the major findings of the article is that many of strategies used at Toyota can be used at US companies. The researchers compare Toyota’ strategies and techniques used at American companies. The authors reveal advantages of strategies used at Toyota.

For instance, the authors point out that communication between project groups is essential in the process of product development. The authors note that Toyota incorporates written and oral communication really effectively. Thus, engineers work out really precise reports where major issues and recommendations are highlighted.

The reports are distributed among people involved. If the issue is two complex, a meeting is arranged, where the issue is discussed in detail. Admittedly, this is very effective as engineers do not waste their time during long meetings.

They come prepared for an effective discussion as they have learnt major points from the reports. Notably, the reports designed are highly standardized and really brief, so engineers do not spend much time over these reports as well, but these reports highlight the most meaningful information.

One more point discussed is supervision at Toyota. The authors portray a very interesting approach. Thus, supervisors do not simply control, as the “chief engineer has no formal authority over them [his subordinates], so he must “persuade” them to help him realize his vision for the vehicle” (Sobek et al., 1998, p. 42).

Thus, the supervisors do not restrict creativity of their subordinates, but encourages them to work out new solutions. Admittedly, this approach enables the engineers come up with lots of fresh solutions. More importantly, supervisors at Toyota never stop self-developing.

Unlike US colleagues, who stop developing their technical expertise when they occupy managerial position, supervisors at Toyota do not stop acquiring knowledge in the field of technological development.

Finally, now many American companies do not have particular standards as they claim that technology develops too fast, so standards become outdated soon. However, at Toyota there are checklists which enable the engineers make sure they do not miss anything.

Of course, these checklists highlight the most important points. These checklists are updated all the time so they are never out-of-date. Admittedly, this strategy helps engineers to ensure high quality of their products.

Follow-on research

It is necessary to point out that successful techniques and strategies used at Toyota have inspired many companies to change their ways. Many researchers also paid much attention to the development of particular strategies that can be applicable at American companies.

For example, Emiliani (2008) focuses on the concept of “standardized work” which can help executives improve their leadership (p. 24). Thus, the researcher highlights the most typical errors made by leaders. The author also suggests ways to eliminate these errors.

Just like Sobek et al. (1998), Emiliany (2008) claims that standardized work can help companies improve the process of product development if the standards are always up-to-date. Another interesting work dwells upon Lean Product Development (Radeka & Sutton, 2007).

Thus, Radeka and Sutton (2007) point out that when developing new products, it is essential to pay attention to communication between the groups involved, expertise of executives and consumers’ needs. These three areas are essential for effective product development.

It is possible to state that the three articles reveal effective strategies to use when developing new products. The articles also highlight successful experience of Toyota which uses strategies which have already become applicable for many companies in different settings.

Applications

The present article provides valuable insights into the process of product development. Thus, companies can improve this process incorporating successful experience of Toyota. Thus, communication is one of the major problems that companies face. The article verifies that it is possible to balance oral and written communication.

Thus, the companies can use Toyota’s successful experience to reduce the number of face-to-face meetings (and reduce the meetings’ duration) to more effectively manage their time. Brief reports can improve effectiveness of meetings as participants will be prepared and will remain focused on the major issues.

Another important issue to take into account is proper supervision. Thus, it is essential to make sure supervisors are experts in their fields. This will enable executives of the companies to make the right decisions as they will be sure that supervisors are able to see the complete picture.

In fact, the article highlights several major points to pay attention to while developing new products. Every executive can work out specific strategy for his/her company to improve the process of product development on the basis of the information provided in the article.

Reference List

Emiliani, M.L. (2008). Standardized work for executive leadership. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 29(1), 24-46.

Radeka, K. & Sutton, T. (2007). What is “lean” about product development? PDMA Visions Magazine, 31(2), 11-15.

Sobek, II, D.K., Liker, J.K. & Ward, A.C. (1998). Another look at how Toyota integrates product development. Harvard Business Review, 76(4), 36-49.

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