Perhaps the most challenging concept for many companies was that of working with suppliers as partners. Buyers who spent their lives playing one supplier off against others and switching from one to another to save pennies heard that their Japanese counterparts single-sourced in nearly all cases. What is more, large corporations such as Toyota sent out their own specialists in manufacturing improvement to help their suppliers. Where savings were identified then benefits would be shared amicably.
The most readily-visible consequence of this was better service from the company’s suppliers. If we were working together on agreed plans and the supplier could arrange activities based around a long-term relationships then we might avoid a major problem that plagued us in the West – that just as we played off suppliers against each other, they played off their customers. They never knew what demand they may get so they sought more orders than they could, in reality, fulfil. They then reacted to screams and shortages and tried not to fall out too often with each customer. All of this meant all customers holding safety stock to cope with the repeated failures.
Partnership approach brought other benefits – if we worked as true partners then we would not need to spend so much effort in continuously expediting. We could leave behind this ludicrous situation where we had to keep asking «is that order going to be on time?». We could also expect our suppliers to warn us of problems in advance. If their key piece of plant broke down and they told us now of the impact this might have in a week or two, then we could set our own plans to work around the problem.