80 points + Alpha


“A good movie is three good scenes, no bad scenes,” once quipped Howard Hawks. The Corolla’s first Chief Engineer established the doctrine of “80 points + alpha.”

The idea is that, in developing a new products there are 80 points that must be achieved, can’t fail, but the product should also have a + alpha aspect: something more, something new, some element of either VA (improvement of production method for higher quality or lower cost) or VE (improvement in engineering for better performance, higher quality, lower cost).

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It’s easy to see products as generic: the factory, that big machine, produces the same product every time. But of course, that is not true. No product can be exactly the same every time.

Human beings have been producing babies in the same process for the past 200,000 years and yet every baby is unique.

Although the process is generic, we should ask ourselves, for products one by one:

  • are the 80 points held?
  • what is the + alpha factor for this product, and the next, and the next?

Which is the deep meaning of developing people. A learning curve is precisely the repeated operation of the same thing until new insights appear and one learns to do the task better every time.

∑ (+ alpha) represents the person’s learning curve. Each attempt at making the product better one by one.

Similarly, in engineering, the new design of a product should be very clear on the 80 points that must be achieved and can’t be failed. But the + alpha factor is going to be what customers find attractive about the product.

And the engineer’s learning curve will be about:

  • Achieving the 80 points (which means learning all the standards)
  • Imagining the + alpha (improving the design)

And similarly, the engineer’s learning curve will be the repetition of designing similar products with the + alpha in mind.

Any job, even the most creative, has routine task. As a writer, I still write routinely. The radical difference is in the discipline of asking oneself:

What is the + alpha factor I will put into that next task?

It is both a very small, kaizen step, and incredibly challenging when attempted day in and day out over a long period of time. This, I believe, is the true kaizen spirit.

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