Why aren’t Toyota’s chief engineers born outside of Toyota!?

It is said that the strength of Toyota’s organization comes from its chief engineer system (chief engineer system). Many companies try to copy this system, but even if they can adopt the system as a form, it is difficult to create real strong leaders. I would like to learn the secret of creating strong leaders from Toyota’s case study.

From the history of Toyota’s chief engineer system (chief inspector system), we will decipher the secret of Toyota’s organizational strength and how to develop leaders.



Why You Can’t Mimic the Chief Engineer System


It is said that Toyota’s chief engineer system (chief inspector system) is the origin of Toyota’s organizational and product strength.

Many companies try to adopt the chief engineer system, but even if they can copy the appearance and form of the system, it seems to be difficult to copy the substance.

There is even an anecdote that even Ford tried to copy Toyota’s chief engineer system, but could not achieve it even after many years, and the top management became frustrated.

Toyota’s Chief Engineer is not only a strong technical development leader, but is also recognized as a charismatic leader who is responsible for all aspects of the vehicle, including planning, manufacturing, purchasing, sales, and service.

In other words, he is an amazing person, like a so-called superman.

Why can’t such super leaders be trained outside of Toyota? Let’s take a look at why the chief engineer system does not work well.

Obstacles to the Phase-Gate Process

The first reason why other companies cannot easily imitate us is because of the phase-gate development style that many companies follow.

The process of product planning, product development, production preparation, production, and sales, as well as the vertical organization that controls each phase, is an obstacle to the chief engineer system that controls the entire process horizontally.



In the process adopted by many companies, as shown in the figure above, a separate person in charge is assigned to each phase, or in other words, a separate decision maker for each phase.

Each phase is handled by a vertically divided organization, and the person in charge of that organization is in charge of the relevant phase, so that responsibility is relayed throughout the entire process.

Toyota’s chief engineer system, on the other hand, eliminates the separation of each phase, and one general leader is responsible for the entire process.

Of course, there must be organizations in Toyota that are responsible for each specialized field, but the first difficult task is to create a system in which the leader passes through the heads of each functional organization to make decisions.

The Key is Concurrent Engineering

I think concurrent engineering is one way to think about which is better, Toyota’s chief engineer system or the relay-style division of responsibility for each phase that many companies have adopted.

At Toyota, we have a development style where planning, development, production, purchasing, sales, etc. come together in a large room to develop a single car model.

By breaking down organizational barriers, the people involved in the creation of a single product work as a team, simultaneously sharing and cooperating to solve issues that need to be addressed and problems that stand in the way.

The chief engineer is the person who leads the team.

The phase-gate system may be more efficient if the main goal is to strengthen the functional organization and improve efficiency in the development of multiple models, but in Toyota’s case, the emphasis is on the development of each model, and all stakeholders gather to create a single product.

This structure is probably the reason behind the creation of such a powerful leader as Chief Engineer.

The presence of a back to chase

“Chicken first? Egg first?”

In the book “Toyota Chief Engineer’s Work” by Naoto Kitagawa, the author, a former chief engineer, talks about the actual situation at Toyota.

According to Mr. Kitagawa, there is no special training program for the development of chief engineers, only on-the-job training.

In fact, they grow up by watching the backs of their excellent predecessors and setting their sights on them. The first outstanding chief engineer was the one who created a blockbuster product, and the chief engineer-led development system was recognized and passed down from generation to generation.

So, in an ordinary company, is there a superman like the chief engineer of Toyota?.

Of course, even if there are one or two such people, there is the question of whether or not they can be passed on.

In any case, I think that unless there is a model chief engineer within the company, a successful experience of that person, and a candidate to take over the power of that person, the situation will not be the same as Toyota.

The company I used to work for actually decided to adopt a development system based on Toyota’s chief engineer system about 40 years ago, that is, in the 1980s.

The PM system (project manager system) is still in place, but in reality, it is nothing like Toyota’s chief engineer system.

In terms of roles, it might be easier to say that it is a coordinator between the development area and related areas (planning, production, purchasing, sales, etc.), focusing on the development phase.

They also manage the schedule, etc., but as far as I know, they don’t show leadership in the content of development or technical aspects. (I’m sure there are people who can do it properly, but not all.)

However, as far as I know, they don’t show leadership in the content of development or technical aspects. It would be more accurate to say that it is not possible to give them the right to make decisions, either because of their abilities or because of the corporate system.

In order to continuously produce chief engineers, I think it is necessary to have a clear image of the target person and a development system that seeks a charismatic leader as a chief engineer.


DNA as seen from Toyota’s history


Toyota’s chief engineer system is said to have started with the development of the first generation Crown.

The first chief engineer (or chief engineer as we know it today) was Mr. Kenya Nakamura.

Although the first generation Crown was not Japan’s first domestically produced car, it was the first domestic car that could realistically be sold to the general public.

The development of the first-generation Crown was covered in NHK’s “Close-up Gendai” (DVD: Original Development: Dream Domestic Passenger Car) and is explained in detail in ”The Story of the Development of the First Crown” by Yoji Katsuragi

From these stories, it seems that the roots of Toyota’s chief engineer lie in the efforts of Mr. Kenya Nakamura, who was he development leader of the first-generation Crown, and the management and development members of the time who supported Mr. Nakamura, among them Mr. Tatsuo Hasegawa, who was a sub-leader.

Mr. Kenya Nakamura was a production engineer, not a development specialist, but was appointed by the top management as the development leader of the first generation Crown. At first, some of the people who were originally in the development organization did not like the idea of Mr. Nakamura becoming the development leader.

From this point of view, we may be able to understand Toyota’s stance of breaking down organizational barriers from the first development to ensure the success of development by putting the right people in the right places.

It is said that Mr. Nakamura was not very good at socializing and communicating with the members of the team, but it seems that Mr. Hasegawa was able to cover for this negative element.

It is said that Mr. Nakamura was a bit of an eccentric, and when he wasn’t working, he was reading every book he could find, even those not in his field of expertise, because he wanted to develop a good car.

It is said that he read every book he could find, even those that were not in his field of expertise, because he was determined to develop a good car. He was also a man who pushed through with his decisions, or to put it another way, he was a man with a strong will to make all decisions on his own.

At that time, it was common knowledge that it was impossible for Japanese to develop a proper domestic car alone, but under the order of Kiichiro Toyoda, a powerful backer of the company, to “catch up with the U.S. in three years,” the company took on a number of difficult challenges and overcame them.

Among the many breakthroughs achieved under Mr. Nakamura’s leadership was the realization of the streamlined body of the crown, where conventional steel plates and presses would crack. In order to overcome this problem, Mr. Nakamura read a lot of books on iron composition and appealed directly to the steel manufacturer to make a steel plate that would not crack, and finally achieved a streamlined body.

If I were to talk about the development of the first-generation Crown, it would take up all the space in the paper, so please refer to Mr. Katsuragi’s aforementioned book or the Close-Up Gendai DVD for details.

In conclusion, I believe that the success of the development of the first-generation Crown under Mr. Nakamura’s strong leadership is the root of the Toyota chief engineer system, which has been passed down to the present.

I would like to introduce some of Mr. Nakamura’s words.

  • You don’t know if it’s going to work or not, so you develop it.
  • Development is a night train with an uncertain future. Push forward with wisdom and courage.
  • The most important thing in development is freedom. It must be earned freedom, not given freedom.
  • If you have a 50% chance of success, you must do it; even a 30% chance is worth a try.
  • Poor direction will only kill the creativity of your subordinates.
  • If you put safety first in everything you do, you will never improve your technology and you will never be able to get ahead of your competitors.

The last part, “safety first” (in development), may be painful to many people.

Mr. Hasegawa, who supported Mr. Nakamura behind the scenes, led the development of the Corolla, which would become Toyota’s bread and butter after the first-generation Crown, as the chief engineer.

Mr. Nakamura was an extremely talented engineer and made a great contribution to Toyota, but due to his personality, he was not able to become an executive officer and was given the position of counselor, which was treated as an executive officer, while Mr. Hasegawa eventually became a senior managing director of Toyota.

Mr. Nakamura may not have been good at communicating with others, but I think everyone would agree that he took on difficult challenges and completed them, and that he was the first to create a domestic car that was accepted in the market.

On the other hand, after Mr. Hasegawa’s success in the development of the Corolla, etc., and after he became the head of the development office and was in a position to supervise the chief engineers, he created the “10 Articles of a Chief Engineer. I’d like to introduce it to you for a deeper understanding of what it means to be a chief engineer.

  • The chief inspector should always learn a wide range of knowledge and insights.
  • Chiefs should have their own strategies.
  • The Chief should cast a big and good net.
  • The chief should devote all his knowledge and ability to achieve good results.
  • The chief inspector should not bother to repeat things.
  • The chief inspector should have confidence (faith) in himself.
  • The chief inspector should not blame others for things.
  • The chief inspector and the assistant chief inspector must have the same personality.
  • The chief inspector must not be too quick to get around.
  • Qualities required of a chief inspector: knowledge, technical skills, experience, insight, judgment, decisiveness, competence, calmness without emotion, vitality, persistence, concentration, leadership, expressiveness, persuasiveness, flexibility, and desire for selflessness (personality).

Perhaps this image of a person has been handed down over the years and still remains in our veins today.

After the development of the first generation Crown, Toyota’s automobile development continued to build on the success of the first generation Crown, and Mr. Hasegawa and many other chief engineers followed in Mr. Nakamura’s footsteps.

After the development of the first Crown, Toyota’s automobile development continued in order to continue its success.

Bottom-line strength through empathy with top management’s thoughts

The first generation Crown was launched in 1955, more than 60 years ago, and its development began in 1952.

Again, at that time, it was said that it was technically impossible to develop a domestically produced private car, and Toyota also received an offer from Ford Motor Company in the U.S. to produce Ford cars at Toyota.

Kiichiro Toyoda had a strong desire to develop a domestically produced private car, and despite his doubts, he turned down the offer and chose the thorny path of developing his own private car, urging the company to catch up with the U.S. in three years.

It is easy to imagine that the fact that the top management and the development leader shared the same desire to take on a challenge that they did not know if it would be possible gave them great strength.

In Mr. Kitagawa’s ”The Work of a Toyota Chief Engineer,” he describes a chief engineer who is desperately trying to figure out how to respond to pressure from top management, such as pressure to reduce costs, shorten schedules, and of course, pressure on sales of car models.

What particularly impressed me was that Mr. Kitagawa was given a heavy order from the top management to “reduce the development cost by half.” He tried to figure out how he could do it and thoroughly eliminate waste. Then, in desperation, I simulated what would happen if we developed without prototyping, and it turned out that we could reduce the number of prototypes by half. That’s why I came up with the idea of prototype-less development. That’s how we came up with the idea of prototype-less development.

I am sure that this way of thinking for ourselves and facing difficulties has been passed down to Toyota since the days of Mr. Kenya Nakamura.

In fact, at the same time as Mr. Kenya Nakamura, Mr. Taichi Ohno was working on the production side to create a production system that was competitive with that of the United States. This became the “Toyota Production System” known as the “Kanban Method”. This is more famous in the world than the story of the chief engineer.

Mr. Ohno also created the Toyota Production System based on Mr. Kiichiro’s request to catch up with the U.S. in three years, but instead of adopting the U.S. Ford production system, which was his immediate goal, he created a new system that was clearly distinct from it.

I believe that these are the reasons why Toyota has become an unrivaled company in both development and production.

In the book ”Toyota Production System” he writes that he wrote the book because it was not his true intention that the Toyota Production System should be regarded as the Kanban System.

In the book, Mr. Ohno says that the Toyota Production System is

  • Just-in-time
  • automation(have a human presence)

The two pillars of the project are as follows.

And a very interesting description.

And there is a very interesting statement.

If I were to use a baseball analogy, I would say that “just in time” is to demonstrate the virtues of team play, or teamwork, and “self-motivation” is to enhance the skills of each individual player.

Just in time means to thoroughly eliminate waste based on the basic idea of “only what is needed, when it is needed. In order to thoroughly eliminate waste in manufacturing, it is important to not only rely on machines, but also to continue to use human wisdom and to create a unique system through trial and error. This is how the Toyota production system was perfected.

In the course of teaching Lean development, I keep telling people not to just copy the form, and in fact, Mr. Ohno said the same thing, that it is not important to copy the Kanban system, but to think for ourselves and go through trial and error.

Furthermore, Mr. Kitagawa, a former chief engineer of Toyota, also said, “Simply creating a chief engineer system will not produce hit products, and it will not work unless there is a system to support it.

The strength to not change what was important

I personally believe that one of the reasons why Toyota’s chief engineer system is still functioning well after more than 60 years, and is unrivaled by other companies, is because Toyota has never changed what is important.

I believe that the important thing is to develop each car model carefully so that customers will be happy to buy it.

You may argue that this is obvious and the same for all companies, but is it really so?

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Japanese companies, Made In Japan, were very successful with cheap and high quality “Japanese products” by mastering TQC, a quality control method from the United States.

The business performance of each company has risen steadily, and many companies have run to improve their management efficiency, enjoying the era of “make it and sell it.

Of course, I don’t think this in itself is a bad thing.

Under pressure to increase efficiency, shorten the development period, and lower costs, development systems and processes are being reformed with a priority on efficiency.

Of course, Toyota was also under similar pressure, but while many companies strengthened their organization by function and established a mass production system for product development, in other words, a development system that was like a flow of work, I think Toyota was the only company that did not change its system of gathering all the relevant people in a large room to complete the development of a single car model.

The streamlining of development that many companies undertook was successful, and the performance of each company increased further, but I believe that they sacrificed something important.

That is the ability of each individual to think.

As a result, I feel that we have neglected the idea of “self-discipline” as mentioned by Mr. Taichi Ohno, and have done “efficiency improvement without discipline” in development.


Continuing to create strong leaders to revive Japan’s manufacturing industry


It is not easy to continuously create supermen like chief engineers in an organization.

The general manager of the development division of a successful U.S. company that introduced Lean product development called Teradyne Vensos told me that even after seven years since the start of the reform, no chief engineers had been developed, but there were two or three candidates who would become great super leaders in about three more years.

In other words, it may be a 10-year job to train and structure the chief engineer.

I can’t wait that long, I hear you say.

Then what should I do?

I think there is a hint in Mr. Taichi Ohno’s  “automation(have a human presence)”.

Transforming into a thinking person and a thinking organization

It seems from books and other sources that Mr. Kenya Nakamura was not a person who was suited to training subordinates.

Perhaps by showing his back, he was able to nurture good successors in the end.

On the other hand, Mr. Ohno seems to have a number of disciples, or rather, people who were taught by him and grew up to become active.

In my opinion, the secret to their success is that they have been able to “automation(have a human presence),” that is, they have been able to think of reform activities on their own to eliminate waste.

In the aforementioned book by Mr. Ohno, he writes about the importance of uncovering the real problems through the “why-why five times.

And I believe that the next generation of leaders will be born from those who have developed the ability to think.

Therefore, developing the ability to think throughout the organization will create the soil to continue to produce strong leaders.

In other words, I believe that the ability to think is the ability to think logically.

There are two key words to develop the ability to think logically.

  • Why is that?
  • So what happens?

We believe that when these two words are exchanged between supervisors and subordinates and within the organization, the thinking ability of individuals and the organization will improve.

As a way to develop the ability to think logically, we recommend using the TOC (Theory of Constraints) problem solving framework to capture the essence of organizational problems and utilize the thinking process to solve problems strategically.

“Why is that?” “So what happens? At the same time, it is possible for the entire organization to have a way of thinking that corrects the different vectors of thinking that each individual has and makes them aware of their own assumptions.

Moreover, a common thinking process can activate communication within the organization and strengthen the ability to think throughout the organization.

By raising the level of thinking ability, we can not only identify strong leader candidates, but also create an environment where strong leaders can easily flourish.

Our support service includes a program to strengthen the thinking ability of organizations.

Reference article:

Logical Thinking Skills Training to change you into a more persuasive person

Logical Thinking Skills Seminar

What is TOC (Theory of Constraints) – How to apply it to a product development organization

Create a target back and give it a chance

As we can see from Toyota’s success story, in order to create a strong organization and maintain its strength for a long time, we need a mechanism to pass on good DNA.

Specifically, we must first create a “back” to follow.

Strong backs, like those of Mr. Kenya Nakamura, Mr. Tatsuo Hasegawa, and Mr. Taichi Ohno.

It’s not easy.

If it’s not easy to find someone within the organization, you can ask someone who has already been promoted to a senior position and has been out of the field for a while to come back.

Alternatively, you could give them a chance and support them at the top level, even though they are still a bit uncertain.

If you can’t find the right person within the company, even if you have to get one from outside, you should set an example and provide a “backbone” for your successors to follow.

It is also important to create a big success story for the entire company, and give opportunities to future generations to follow that example.

Furthermore, it is important to leave things to them once they are given the chance, but I think it is also important for top management to remember to provide the necessary support.

If the goal is to make the company stronger by creating strong leaders, I think the role of top management is not only to find and place strong leaders, but also to create a mechanism for the next leader to grow from that leader.

Reference article:

How to continually produce excellent project managers

Human resource development focused on individual strengths

Human resource development is a very important issue for managers.

However, if both the field and management are busy with day-to-day work, strategic training is often left to the field (on-the-job training only) or up to the individual, without being able to provide strategic training.

The reality is that employees are so busy every day that they don’t have many chances to think seriously about their careers.

From the employees’ point of view, the company, which is supposed to protect them, does not take responsibility for their future, or in other words, their career development.

While it may be necessary for employees to be prepared to take care of themselves, it would be good to have measures that would make both employees and the company happy.

As Mr. Taichi Ohno says, we need a system to enhance the skills of each and every player.

In order to create strong leaders and to transform the company into a strong development organization, we have considered the process of creating strong individuals.

From our company, we are proposing a career development system to create strong individuals who can contribute to the company and society, with a view to furthering their career outside the company.

For more details, please refer to the following article.

Reference article:

Support for establishing a 7-step career advancement HR system