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Why Toyota still uses paper reports

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Toyota still extensively uses paper reports, even if computers are now available. Here's why.

By Karn G. Bulsuk


If you've ever had the fortune to visit a Toyota factory you'll notice that they still use a significant amount of paper in their operations. Their famous A3 reports for example, continue to remain rooted in the paper past.

It's not that Toyota refuses to adapt new technology. Although they are a conservative company, they have the ability to the latest and greatest when its required - for example, the development of the know-how to create the hybrid car. However, Toyota doesn't believe in using technology for the sake of being new and shiny. The solution needs to be justified and demonstrate that it adds value to the operation, without depreciating the benefits of past solutions.

While A3 reports can be replaced by a computer or a tablet, ultimately computers simply do not offer the same flexibility as a piece of paper. It is not as easy to mark up, pass around nor can you really stick it onto a wall.

Paper is not only more efficient, but cheaper as well. In addition to the cost of the computer and display devices, the additional cost of electricity, software and support services outweighs the cost of a printed page.

Toyota isn't anti-technology, but ultimately looks to see whether a solution makes real sense. Looking and editing a report on a tablet is cool, but cannot offer the same value as a piece of paper.

In other words, Toyota believes in the old adage: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.



Photo credit: Malik

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6 comments »

  • larmanius said:  

    Thank You. Outstanding article.


    The "paper is bad cuz it is low-tech" is something we must all fight against. One of my Lean journey mentors really opened my eyes on this: cuz I'm a computer guy. I want to put everything into Excel almost by default. But, his description of "technology" in Lean systems does not equal "computer" all the time. Paper forms and other simple items are often way cheaper and better. Better to have a paper form that can be customized or optimized easy by staff than set up a computer order-entry system that doesn't work right and has a terrible interface. This emphasizes "who is the customer" too. Computer make reporting easier for accountants, they often do NOTHING for the physician or tech on the floor.

  • karnbulsuk said:  

    That's very true - sometimes we often over-think things when a much simpler solution is at hand!

  • Don said:  

    What you said also reinforces the point that when you only optimize one part of a larger system, the system as a whole will most likely be sub-optimized.

  • Sukumar Roy said:  

    "Paper is not only more efficient, but cheaper as well. In addition to the cost of the computer and display devices, the additional cost of electricity, software and support services outweighs the cost of a printed page."

    My apologies, but the above statement is asinine at best.

    When someone or an organization achieves iconic status - usually for valid reasons - it does NOT mean that WHATEVER they do is correct and applies to everyone else.

    Of course technology must not be applied willy-nilly. Doing that will be a fool's errand. As the adage goes - "To err is human, but to really foul* things up one needs a computer!".

    * one can use any other appropriate verb here.

    The bottom line is this. Even though paper should be used if appropriate, judicious use of technology provides invaluable data/information. The kind of technology discussed here is used to enter various transactions. Technology allows cross-connections among transactions. One very small example:

    In a procurement process, release of a purchase request can automatically trigger other processes such as approval of the request, purchase order creation, receiving, invoice processing, etc. These cross-connections can easily produce data that is not practically feasible in a manual process. For example, receiving sub-process (that includes quality check of the ordered product or service also) can indicate vendor performance for being on time and how good they are in meeting customer specs.

    A manual paper based process can also produce human errors. This reader is well familiar and can quote numerous examples from personal experiences.

    Toyota is an iconic company and they are a role model for many operational management principles. However, that does not make ALL they do foolproof - as their recent quality woes indicate.

    Toyota also goes through extensive training process to create a "Toyota mindset". To Japanese that comes easy because of their culture that ingrains such a mindset. However to do that in a non-Japanese company is extremely difficult - if not impossible.

    When people think of technology, they almost always think in terms of transaction entries. They usually ignore or are unaware of the data it can provide for decision making when technology is correctly applied. This is where technology can excel even more.

  • Tharaka Dayabandara said:  

    when a nation developed a pen which can be used in zero gravity, another nation simply used a pencil instead.
    I clearly believe in use of appropriate technology; rather than adapting the latest available.. as in going with the trend.

    However the there should be a rationale for shifting a technology, process or a system. this rationale need to be properly analysed with suggested solutions before implementing the mechanisms.
    If Toyota followed this mechanism, which am sure.. then using of paper would have been seem as better approach.

  • Chandra Sekhar Kachana said:  

    I agree some of points with Mr Sukumar and also disagree some of points.I am working as a Lean Manager for 7 years. With my past experience I would say need latest tech but not always.Paper reports will more effective to understand every one and easy to communicate in workplaces.

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