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Journal Article

Flexibility versus Efficiency? A Case Study of Model Changeovers in the Toyota Production System

Paul S. Adler, Barbara Goldoftas and David I. Levine
Organization Science
Vol. 10, No. 1 (Jan. - Feb., 1999), pp. 43-68
Published by: INFORMS
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2640387
Page Count: 26
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Flexibility versus Efficiency? A Case Study of Model Changeovers in the Toyota Production System
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Abstract

This article seeks to reconceptualize the relationship between flexibility and efficiency. Much organization theory argues that efficiency requires bureaucracy, that bureaucracy impedes flexibility, and that organizations therefore confront a tradeoff between efficiency and flexibility. Some researchers have challenged this line of reasoning, arguing that organizations can shift the efficiency/flexibility tradeoff to attain both superior efficiency and superior flexibility. Others have pointed out numerous obstacles to successfully shifting the tradeoff. Seeking to advance our understanding of these obstacles and how they might be overcome, we analyze an auto assembly plant that appears to be far above average industry performance in both efficiency and flexibility. NUMMI, a Toyota subsidiary located in Fremont, California, relied on a highly bureaucratic organization to achieve its high efficiency. Analyzing two recent major model changes, we find that NUMMI used four mechanisms to support its exceptional flexibility/efficiency combination. First, metaroutines (routines for changing other routines) facilitated the efficient performance of nonroutine tasks. Second, both workers and suppliers contributed to nonroutine tasks while they worked in routine production. Third, routine and nonroutine tasks were separated temporally, and workers switched sequentially between them. Finally, novel forms of organizational partitioning enabled differentiated subunits to work in parallel on routine and nonroutine tasks. NUMMI's success with these four mechanisms depended on several features of the broader organizational context, most notably training, trust, and leadership.

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