The Ambassador of TPS

As it celebrates its 25th anniversary, TSSC VP Jamie Bonini talks about how the group shares TPS with outside organizations

September 13, 2017
A Celebration of TPS --  Below, you can read about Jamie Bonini's career and the last 25 years of TSSC. You can also click here to watch a video about his favorite project.


Editor’s Note: Today’s issue of Driver’s Seat is devoted to celebrating 25 years of TSSC. Below, you’ll find our interview with TSSC Vice President Jamie Bonini. You can also read more about TSSC by clicking here and here.


A couple things you need to know before we get into this interview with TSSC Vice President Jamie Bonini: First, TSSC stands for Toyota Production System Support Center. The P, apparently, is silent.
 
Second, last week, TSSC celebrated its 25th anniversary. That means for a quarter century, it has been helping nonprofits, government agencies and mid-size manufacturing companies implement the Toyota Production System (TPS) to help them become engage their employees, become more productive, and improve quality and safety. As such, it’s the key way Toyota shares its knowledge outside the auto industry.  
 
Third, since TSSC just marked a major milestone, today’s issue of Driver’s Seat is devoted to its legacy. And, what better way to lead off than by sitting down with one of TSSC’s most prominent figures, Vice President Jamie Bonini, who has spent the last six years as an ambassador for Toyota’s world-famous manufacturing process.
 
So, if you don’t know exactly what TPS is, or what TSSC does, just keep reading.
 
And, if you want more Bonini – including his favorite movie, favorite project and favorite car, click here to watch our Executive Insider video.
 
Driver’s Seat: Tell me about your career so far.
 
Jamie Bonini: I spent about 25 years working in automobile manufacturing in one form or another, whether it was in plants or working with suppliers. Then the last six, I’ve been working with TSSC to share TPS outside of Toyota. That’s been very interesting. You get all kinds of different settings, nonprofit, health care, manufacturing environments. It’s interesting to learn about these things and apply these principles that don’t have deep roots in these settings.
 
What’s the history of TSSC?
 
In the late 80s, when Toyota opened Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky (TMMK), there were a lot of visitors from different sectors that wanted to learn about TPS. And then the book The Machine that Changed the World came out in 1990. TMMK was even more swamped by visitors who wanted to see how TPS could apply to their operations. So TSSC was created systematically share the Toyota Production System in North America with interested outside organizations. We knew you have to learn TPS by doing it, hands on. If you wanted to support organizations you had to be willing to work in their organizations side by side.
 
Looking back at these 25 years, what have we accomplished?
 
Well, I think there are a couple things. We’ve helped a variety of non-automotive organizations learn to do TPS at a pretty high level. By working with people in those sectors, we’ve learned a lot about how TPS applies outside of automotive, so we can go into other sectors. We expose hundreds of people to TPS every year. They can come to one of our workshops for a couple days, get a feel for TPS and see it working in action in a non-Toyota environment.

Since 1992 we’ve completed over 350 projects. This year we’ll be active and onsite in over 50 organizations. About 30 will be nonprofits and about 20 will be small to mid-size manufacturing companies.

Our group is 16 people who work on TSSC full time. Each person at TSSC will work on three projects at one time. So three weeks of the month they’re on site at a project, and one week they’re either conducting a workshop or training session.
 
When you show up for the first day on these projects, and you’re just starting to observe, what goes through your head?
 
Generally, when we first get exposed to an organization, there are two things we’re looking at. First, what is the product or service this organization is providing to their customers? Secondly, we spend a lot of time with the organizations asking them what they would like to improve. Once that’s clear, we start thinking about what areas in the process we can improve to make the whole process stronger.
 
We’ll do a first round of improvements, and then we will observe the impacts and then we’ll see some new areas to improve, and then we’ll go to round two or three. And usually by the fifth or sixth round  the organization will come up with their own ideas. They’ll get a feel for this and figure out what they can try. That’s how we can get a virtuous cycle going.
 
We want them to make it their own, to internalize it. And they can implement it a lot better than we could because they know their product and services and customers much better than we ever could.
 
Working a Crowd -- Bonini had a few things to say at TSSC's 25th anniversary celebration last week. 

What are the pillars of TPS?
 
Let me describe how we share the TPS outside of Toyota: The Toyota Production System is an organizational culture that is created and sustained by an integrated system of three things that work together.
 
The first is a basic philosophy about how to run the organization. Then, those technical tools must be supported by a managerial role, which is to develop and engage people to solve problems and drive improvement. So, what we’re talking about is a culture of improvement where people come to work every day, do their work and make their work better to better serve their customers. So the three things are the philosophy, the technical tools and the managerial role. Those three have to work together as an integrated system to sustain the continuous improvement culture.
 
What’s the best way to get people to go along with that?
 
What we’ve found most effective for helping organizations learn TPS is doing a model or a pilot. That narrow area could be a soup kitchen, a pantry, a unit in a hospital. We want to implement the TPS in great depth in that area. In that narrow area we want to commit the philosophy as it relates to their business.
 
A lot of what you do seems to like common sense. And the simplicity of everything is mind blowing.
 
Yes, I think a lot of the things we do seem fairly logical. But when you’re in the middle of figuring them out there is a lot of thinking that has to happen and you look at different options. It’s not so clear when you’re in the middle of it sometimes.
 
How do you choose who to work with?
 
When we get requests from organizations, we kind of vet them first to check that the philosophy of the organization will fit pretty well with TPS. With manufacturing companies, part of the agreement is that there will be no reduction in employment due to our work. So if we can make a process more efficient, we want employees to be reallocated to other areas.

We also look at whether TPS can really help them. If it’s a good fit, then we’re willing to try a small project to get us started. The other thing is. the organization needs to be willing to commit people who can learn and teach the others.
 
Spreading the word -- Bonini's job consists of spreading TPS to organizations outside of Toyota. 
 
We have a lot of new people at Toyota. How can we share the pillars that we live by?
 
When we work with outside organizations, we emphasize that you learn TPS hands on, by doing. You learn the philosophy by living the philosophy. So you learn TPS the same way you learn to ride a bike or swim. You learn the basic concepts, but then you have to keep trying. The people that are newer to the company will learn and experience the Toyota Way by doing it. They’ll do it by applying it to their work. They’ll do it by seeing how the company responds to various challenges. And over time it’ll take root through experience. And that’s the challenge of all leaders here, to build the type of culture where people get those experiences.
 
TSSC has a major milestone coming up: 25 years. What does that mean to you?
 
To me personally, it’s an incredible honor to be part of this group. Thinking back to the history that’s happened over 25 years and what’s been done, it’s amazing that this group was set up and the contributions they’ve made. It’s also a great opportunity for us to look ahead.
 
What do you see in the future?
 
We’re looking to introduce TPS into new sectors that haven’t had as much exposure to. Sectors like construction, which employs a lot of people in North America. We think from TPS could apply to that sector. Also restaurants, apparel, retail. We think TPS operational principles would apply there and improve employment. A lot of apparel manufacturing left North America in the last 25 years. There’s a trend of bringing some of that back. We think we can make a difference in that space.
 
That’s all we’ve got, Jamie. Thanks!
 
By Dan Nied
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