What Do Toyota Manufacturing and Taiichi Ohno Have to Do With E-Filing and Integrated Justice Systems?

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the opportunity to leverage an existing court ECM/internal workflow system by implementing Electronic Filing.  To expand on the subject, here’s an example I picked up in, of all things, a course on Manufacturing Strategy years ago.

In the early 1990’s, Toyota was selling small cars in the U.S. for substantially less than it cost American companies to make such vehicles, much less ship them or earn a profit.  Even after allowing for wage differentials (which turned out not to be significantly different), the Americans claimed Toyota was “dumping” vehicles into the U.S. market below cost to increase Toyota’s market share.  Such activity would be illegal and in violation of a bunch of treaties and trade agreements.

Toyota vigorously denied acting improperly. To demonstrate their point, they invited a high-ranking delegation of American trade authorities and U.S. manufacturers to visit and observe their manufacturing operations.

When the delegation observed the assembly line, on the surface it looked pretty much like its American counterparts.  The machines were the same.  There were approximately the same number of stations; and the workers at the stations were doing approximately the same things to the vehicles as they came down the line.   At first blush, it sure looked like it was taking approximately the same time and effort to build a Toyota as a Ford, Chevy or Plymouth.

But –and here was the big revelation – Toyota, under Taiichi Ohno (one of my heroes) had redone all their processes in several major regards (see Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production, Ohno, Taiichi (1988), Productivity Press, ISBN 0-915299-14-3).  All are pertinent to court and justice systems operations.   There are two I want to highlight here.

The first is that Toyota had implemented what was then called “Just-In-Time” (now called “Lean Manufacturing”), meaning that supplies arrived just when needed and output was transported immediately when produced.  The greatest power of this transformation is that it eliminates two of the seven “wastes”: Waiting, and Unnecessary Inventory (of both supplies and materials used to produce, and of finished product).

Anyone who has dealt with implementing automated workflow will immediately recognize that automated workflow is “Lean Manufacturing” applied to business processes.  And the results are just as dramatic.  However much the Americans might maximize the efficiency of the processes “on the line”, they could not match the efficiencies realized by Toyota in expanding its “smart” processes to include management of its supplies and material (analogous to incoming documents in court operations) as well as its outgoing product.  Likewise, as powerful as internal ECM and workflow are to court operations, Electronic Filing and Integrated Justice provide opportunities for “unbelievable” improvements.

This leads to the second point.  Obviously, such change required thorough retraining of Toyota’s workforce.  But Ohno quickly discovered that was not enough.   Even with the Toyota workforce up to speed, the new processes required Toyota’s suppliers, dealers and customers to fundamentally change the way they did business so they could support, and benefit from, the new paradigm.  So the second major wave was for Toyota to undertake complete retraining of all its business partners.  Because he understood that, even though there were a myriad of participants, it was all one integrated system.

When courts and the justice system are considering Electronic Filing and Integrated Justice Systems, and they need an example to try to make their point regarding the “unbelievable” improvements that can be expected, they can point to the Toyota experience.

Postscript: The “dumping” charges were ultimately dropped.  There was no case: Toyota was making pretty good money on the vehicles sold in America.

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