Jeffrey Liker and Mike Rother

Liker and RotherIf you want a good understanding of Toyota (and I humbly suggest that anyone in pursuit of what might be referred to as ‘Operational Excellence’ should) then Jeffrey Liker and Mike Rother are ‘where it’s at’.

Jeff (pictured on the left) is Professor of Industrial and Operational Engineering at the University of Michigan and has spent decades associated with Toyota, studying every detail and documenting his findings and insights.

Mike (on the right) was a student of Jeff’s at the University of Michigan, has gone on to work at other research establishments in Germany and become a great educator in his own right. He has co-authored a number of books for the Lean Enterprise Institute.

Both Jeff and Mike speak at and consult to major organisations around the world.

Books of note:

Between them they have written many books with the name ‘Toyota’ in the title! Here’s three to single out:

1. Liker’s first and probably most famous book is ‘The Toyota Way’ (2004). It’s sold loads of copies and has been translated into 26 languages.

“The Toyota Way, explains Toyota’s unique approach – through 14 management principles and the philosophy that drive Toyota’s quality and efficiency-obsessed culture.”

2. Rother’s book ‘Toyota Kata’ (2010) explains and breaks down the scientific method of thinking used by Toyota into two patterns (or Katas).

“Toyota Kata gets to the essence of how Toyota manages continuous improvement and human ingenuity, through improvement kata and coaching kata. Mike explains why typical companies fail to understand the core of Lean and make limited progress – and what it takes to make it a real part of your culture.”

3. One of Liker’s most recent books ‘The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership’ (2012) arguably fills an important hole: how organisations that are apparently ‘adopting Lean’ miss the most critical ingredient – the necessary leadership.

Why giants?

You might think it rather light of me to include Liker and Rother in my giants list because, “wow, if all they’ve done is study Toyota, what’s so original about that?!”

Well, their research and writings have been awarded many prizes for how well they have managed to study, analyse and present this knowledge such that we might better understand.

Importantly, their research has been performed in close collaboration with Toyota, rather than as merely interested and opinionated bystanders. Indeed, the current President of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, wrote the forward to the leadership book discussed above.

The usual ‘Service’ caveat:

Okay, so Liker and Rother’s books brilliantly explain about Toyota….but please remember Seddon’s words about service being different to manufacturing. The importance of research work about Toyota is in the principles and philosophy uncovered, not in the specific tools and techniques that may be explained along the way.


Mike’s Toyota Kata website: Toyota Kata

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