Engineering Design at a Toyota Company: Knowledge Management and the Innovative Process

Engineering Design at a Toyota Company: Knowledge Management and the Innovative Process

Darius Mehri (University of California - Berkeley, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-176-6.ch022
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Abstract

The author worked in the research and design department at a large Toyota company in the late 1990s and experienced an innovative process where engineers worked in tightly knit groups where monitoring, the informal hierarchy and dependence resulted from an emphasis on collective work. In the approach to innovation during the design process, the Toyota engineers were found to engage in an inductive process that placed an emphasis on the concrete and an orientation toward the field as a result of an approach that relied on experience based knowledge. The use of tacit and explicit knowledge is discussed within the context of the design process and the author finds that explicit knowledge dominates the improvement of productivity and organizational learning. The latest research in the sociology of culture and cultural psychology is used to highlight the cognitive approach to problem solving during the innovative process.
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Introduction

With the rise of Toyota's renowned position as a producer of high quality automobiles, the past two decades has seen a dramatic increase in the study of the company's use of knowledge and organizational learning (Cusumano and Nobeoka 1998; Keeney and Florida 1993; Monden 1993; Womack, Jones and Roos 1991). The literature primarily focuses on the principles of the Toyota Production System and it's unique blend of human resource and management techniques. Scholars claim that Toyota's success stems from employing principles of continuous improvement and problem solving in what is known as "lean production". Although the studies initially focused on manufacturing techniques, such as just-in-time manufacturing and continuous improvement (kaizen) to reduce waste and increase quality, scholars claim that management's use of knowledge in the research and design stage in the Toyota organization is an important aspect of implementing the best practices of lean production. (Liker 2004) suggests that one of the keys to Toyota's success lies in its ability to create an organizational culture focused on problem solving, continuous improvement and organizational learning implemented at all levels of product development.

Another stream of literature focuses on the cognitive processes behind the use of knowledge in organizations. The use of tacit verses explicit knowledge initially discussed by Michael Polanyi has become the basis for studies in knowledge management in Japanese organizations. Tacit knowledge is defined as knowledge known only to an individual by experience. Explicit knowledge, on the other hand, is knowledge that is available in written form and can therefore easily transferred to others. (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995) claim that Japanese firms do not employ the Western, hierarchical top-down management structure where selected knowledge flows from below to top management who use the information to devise corporate strategy, nor do they employ a bottom up strategy where employees are independent, and the hierarchy and the division of labor are eliminated. Japanese firms instead employ a middle-up down process of knowledge creation where middle managers are at the center of knowledge management and are best able to exploit the use of both tacit and explicit knowledge to improve organizational learning and productivity.

Many of these studies developed in part as a consequence of Japanese manufacturing industries posing a threat to American companies and the turn to investigating intellectual resources and organizational learning during the 1990s (Styhre and Sundgren 2005). Although studies of management and the Toyota Production System have contributed to the understanding of knowledge management in Japan, they are pointed toward learning specific management techniques and rarely focus on the micro-social processes behind the dynamics of innovation. In this paper I will discuss the use of knowledge and innovation through an ethnographic analysis of my experience working at a Toyota company in Japan. I will draw on the Toyota scholarship while discussing the cognitive turn in sociology and the latest findings in cultural psychology.

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Foreword
Dariusz Jemielniak, Jerzy Kociatkiewicz
Acknowledgment
Dariusz Jemielniak, Jerzy Kociatkiewicz
Chapter 1
Davydd J. Greenwood
This chapter questions the clarity of the concepts of “knowledge society” and “knowledge-intensive organization”. In particular, the author asserts... Sample PDF
Are Research Universities Knowledge-Intensive Learning Organizations?
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Chapter 2
Juha Kettunen
The aims of knowledge management are to create knowledge and stimulate innovation. Knowledge management allows the knowledge of an organization to... Sample PDF
Construction of Knowledge-Intensive organizations in Higher Education
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Chapter 3
Jeff Gold, Richard Thorpe
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is usually conceived as a planned and formulated process for individual members of professional... Sample PDF
Collective CPD: Professional Learning in a Law Firm
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Chapter 4
Paul Trott, Andreas Hoecht
The United States and European economies have witnessed an enormous increase in the amount of specialized business services, which now provide... Sample PDF
Innovation Risks of Outsourcing within Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS)
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Chapter 5
Lars Steiner
A new knowledge management perspective and tool, ANT/AUTOPOIESIS, for analysis of knowledge management in knowledge-intensive organizations is... Sample PDF
Actor-Network Theory and Autopoiesis: A New Perspective on Knowledge Management
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Chapter 6
Jo A. Tyler, David M. Boje
This chapter fits the theme, the interplay between creativity and control in organizations. Story is often claimed to be a way to elicit tacit... Sample PDF
Sorting the Relationship of Tacit Knowledge to Story and Narrative Knowing
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Chapter 7
Louise Grisoni
The central discussion in this chapter is that poetry can be used to provide a bridge between tangible, rational and explicit knowledge and tacit or... Sample PDF
Exploring Organizational Learning and Knowledge Exchange through Poetry
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Chapter 8
Ester Barinaga
“How do we define our project goal?” “How are we going to coordinate our independent national studies?” “Who is responsible for what?” “How are... Sample PDF
Vagueness: The Role of Language in the Organizing Process of Knowledge Intensive Work
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Chapter 9
Stephen Sheard
In this chapter the author offers an argument towards the resurgence of a proto-alphabetic imagination in electronic and mobile communications. It... Sample PDF
Tyranny of the Eye? The Resurgence of the Proto-Alphabetic Sensibility in Contemporary Electronic Modes of Media (PC/Mobile Telephony); and its Significance for the Status of Knowledge
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Chapter 10
Krzysztof Klincewicz
The chapter discusses the role of IT Research & Analysis firms in the diffusion of knowledge management. The research is based on content analysis... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management and IT Research and Analysis Firms: Agenda-Setters, Oracles and Judges
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Chapter 11
Fatima Guadamillas-Gomez, Mario J. Donate-Manzanares
This chapter analyses the implementation of knowledge management strategies (KMS) in technologyintensive firms. Firstly, a review of KMS in the... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management Strategies Implementation in Innovation Intensive Firms
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Chapter 12
Arla Juntunen
This chapter focuses on the development of the Knowledge Management (KM) platform, and, more generally, the knowledge- and resource based view (RBV)... Sample PDF
Developing a Corporate Knowledge Management Platform in a Multibusiness Company
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Chapter 13
Jonathan D. Owens
Success in new product development (NPD) can be considered a general aim for any company wishing to survive in the 21st Century. It has been found... Sample PDF
Modeling the New Product Development Process: The Value of a Product Development Process Model Approach as a Means for Business Survival in the 21st Century
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Chapter 14
Anders Örtenblad
The ambition of this chapter is to pay some attention to more obvious, as well as more subtle, methods for organizations to become independent of... Sample PDF
Achieving Organizational Independence of Employees' Knowledge Using Knowledge Management, Organizational Learning, and the Learning Organization
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Chapter 15
Angelo Ditillo
Knowledge-intensive firms are composed of various communities, each characterized by specialized knowledge. These communities operate as critical... Sample PDF
Balancing Stability and Innovation in Knowledge-Intensive Firms: The Role of Management Control Mechanisms
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Chapter 16
Aino Kianto, Jianzhong Hong
Nowadays knowledge and competencies are the key productive factors, and the organizational capability for continuous learning, development and... Sample PDF
The Knowledge-Based Approach to Organizational Measurement: Exploring the Future of Organizational Assessment
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Chapter 17
Vidar Hepsø
In knowledge management literature, common information spaces (CIS) are believed to be instrumental in the development and sharing of knowledge.... Sample PDF
Common Information Spaces in Knowledge-Intensive Work: Representation and Negotiation of Meaning in Computer-Supported Collaboration Rooms
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Chapter 18
Agnieszka Postula
This chapter presents and discusses two factors – creativity and control – which correspond to every organizational reality. IT specialists’... Sample PDF
Creativitiy and Control in IT Professionals' Communities
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Chapter 19
Patrocinio Zaragoza-Saez, Enrique Claver-Cortes, Diego Quer-Ramon
Knowledge is one of the basic production factors owned by enterprises, and knowledge management is one of the main dynamic capabilities on which... Sample PDF
A Qualitative Study of Knowledge Management: The Multinational Firm Point of View
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Chapter 20
Cliff Bowan, Pauline Gleadle
The chapter addresses a central dilemma from the viewpoint of dynamic capabilities and the resource based view of the firm: how to manage creativity... Sample PDF
Culture as a Dynamic Capability: The Case of 3M in the United Kingdom
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Chapter 21
Maria E. Burke
The purpose of this chapter is to consider an original way of improving Knowledge Management relationships. This is done within the context of an... Sample PDF
Cultural Issues, Organizations and Information Fulfillment: An Exploration Towards Improved Knowledge Management Relationships
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Chapter 22
Darius Mehri
The author worked in the research and design department at a large Toyota company in the late 1990s and experienced an innovative process where... Sample PDF
Engineering Design at a Toyota Company: Knowledge Management and the Innovative Process
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Chapter 23
Federica Ricceri, James Guthrie
The shift towards a knowledge based economy is at the core of the debate of contemporary management and accounting literature and organisations are... Sample PDF
Critical Analysis of International Guidelines for the Management of Knowledge Resources
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Chapter 24
Christiane Prange
Internationalization has accelerated the speed of knowledge generation and innovation. Thus, companies increasingly need to pool and create new... Sample PDF
Strategic Alliance Capability: Bridging the Individual Back into Inter-Organizational Collaboration
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Chapter 25
Meryem Sevinc, Lawrence Locker, John D. Murray
In the contemporary context of knowledge discovery, the amount of information and the process itself has increased in complexity. Relevant to the... Sample PDF
Automation vs. Human Intervention: Is There any Room Left for the Analyst in the Data Mining Process?
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Chapter 26
Joanna Shih
The hi-tech firms that predominate in Silicon Valley contain a large proportion of knowledge workers—employees with high levels of education and... Sample PDF
Temporality and Knowledge Work
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Chapter 27
Alice MacGilivray
Knowledge management is often associated with the need for change and related shifts in ontologies, ways of knowing and ways of working. Combine the... Sample PDF
Knowledge Intensive Work in a Network of Counter-Terrorism Communities
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Chapter 28
Tatiana Andreeva
Contemporary literature usually views knowledge creation and knowledge sharing as either independent or positively related processes. However, based... Sample PDF
Tensions between Knowledge Creation and Knowledge Sharing: Individual Preferences of Employees in Knowledge-Intensive Organizations
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Chapter 29
Steffen Boehm, Chris Land
Knowledge is implicitly assumed to form an increasingly important, or even the dominant source of values for today’s knowledge based organizations.... Sample PDF
The 'Value' of Knowledge: Reappraising Labour in the Post-Industrial Economy
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Chapter 30
Alexander Styhre
This chapter discusses the use of media in knowledge-intensive organizations. Media is defined here as the integration of technologies, practices... Sample PDF
New Media and Knowledge Work
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Chapter 31
Ben Tran
This chapter examines knowledge and innovation as invaluable factors affecting the longevity of large organizations. It presents the history and... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management: The Construction of Knowledge in Organizations
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Chapter 32
Premilla D’Cruz, Ernesto Noronha
Scholars researching the area of the sociology of professions had earlier predicted that as occupations seek to improve their public image... Sample PDF
Redefining Professional: The Case of India's Call Center Agents
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Chapter 33
Dariusz Jemielniak, Jerzy Kociatkiewicz
Knowledge management and knowledge-intensive work are two of today’s hot buzzwords, though both already have a history of managerial usage. While... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management: Fad or Enduring Organizational Concept?
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About the Contributors