112th Edition – March 28, 2021
Lean production calls for learning far more professional skills and applying these creatively in a team setting rather than in a rigid hierarchy. The paradox is that the better you are at teamwork, the less you may know about a specific, narrow specialty that you can take with you to another company or to start a new business.James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones – The Machine That Changed the World
Rereading the Business Classics
Annually, I like to revisit a book that helped to shape my mind earlier in my business career. One of those titles is The Machine That Changed the World by Womack and Jones. I had already read The Goal, and reading about The Toyota Production System (TPS) further drove me to question everything, even ideas and concepts that were non-manufacturing related.
If you are a trained accountant, then you understand the concept of maintaining a healthy dose of professional skepticism, especially from an audit perspective. I believe the titles above represented about a 100x dosage of what our accounting teachers and managers first taught us.
What’s in a Name?
Taiichi Ohno is considered the father of TPS which is now called Lean. Before the TPS name stuck, the production system was just called the Ohno System.
One of my favorite Ohno stories takes place on a plant floor. After the 1973 global oil crisis, Ohno wanted workers to focus on smaller batch sizes to reduce inventory costs. It worked, but workers kept asking, “How does Nissan do it, or do other companies do it this way?” But they had no other choice because mass production was not the answer to higher productivity at a lower cost.
When I think about the Ohno System or TPS, one word comes to mind – commonsense.
“In a word, the Toyota Production System is to produce what you need, only as much as you need, when you need. When you think about it, this is a very commonsense thing, but I think the fact that this is so difficult to do is because we are trapped by our habits and ways of doing things and we cannot change our ideas and actions.”Taiichi Ohno
Revisiting The Five Why’s
Have you ever wondered where The Five Why’s came from? I’ve been working in consulting for 20 years, and I’ve never had a client use it fully and certainly not consistently over a period of time. The ones who tried gave up after the second or third why. And, I’m certain the discipline never stuck in getting to the root of future problems.
Ohno believed that problems tended to be treated as random events in mass production plants. Instead, Ohno believed every error should be traced back to its ultimate cause. Consider the example mentioned by Womack and Jones in their book regarding a defective part:
- What’s causing the defective part? A: A machine cannot hold tolerance.
- Why can’t this machine hold tolerance? A: Operators cannot be properly trained.
- Why? A: They keep quitting to look for other work meaning operators are always novices.
- Why do they keep quitting? A: The work is monotonous, noisy, and unchallenging.
Once the fifth why is reached, the staff is looking for ways to rethink the work process in order to reduce turnover. According to the authors, the root of most causes is an organizational problem. Think about your company. How often are we delivering a solution to the wrong problem?
What is Your System?
Every type of business should name its production system so that it sticks throughout the entire organization, even small ones. Such naming conventions become the meat and potatoes of the necessary work to be performed at the high standards established by the CEO and leadership team.
Work in health care, then you use your company name and call it the ‘Your Company Name Delivery System.’ Work in banking, call it the ‘Your Bank’s Name Processing System.’ Trust me, your naming conventions will be far better.
Try other words to describe your company’s primary workflow system:
- alteration system
- conversion system
- transformation system (one of my favorites that I’ve recommended)
- construction system (obviously for contractors)
Above all, in the words of Taiichi Ohno, keep removing waste in the system while having respect for all.
Two Book Recommendations
The Machine That Changed the World is necessary reading for any new student of Lean working in manufacturing. What if you work in health care, banking, eCommerce, professional services, or some other industry? The book is a bit dry in parts. Accordingly, my two favorite titles that are heavy on pragmatics are:
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