Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Only after American carmakers had exhausted every other explanation for Toyota's success - an undervalued yen, a docile workforce, Japanese culture, superior automation - were they finally able to admit that Toyota's real advantage was its ability to harness the intellect of 'ordinary' employees.", "Management Innovation" by Gary Hamel, Harvard Business Review, February, 2006

Taiichi Ohno (February 29, 1912 - May 28, 1990) is considered to be the father of the Toyota Production System, also known as Lean Manufacturing.

When I attended Mary Poppendieck's presentation on The Role of Leadership in Software Development at Agile 2007 she talked a lot about Ohno and had a marvelous quote from his book Workplace Management.

There is something called standard work, but standards should be changed constantly. If you think of the standard as the best you can do, it's all over. The standard work is only a baseline for doing further kaizen [change for the better]. Standards are set arbitrarily by humans, so how can they not change? You should not create these away from the job. See what is happening on the gemba [workplace] and write it down.

When creating Standard Work, it will be difficult to establish a standard if you are trying to achieve 'the best way.' This is a big mistake. Document exactly what you are doing now. If you make it better than it is now, it is kaizen. If not, and you establish the best possible way, the motivation for kaizen will be gone.

One way of motivating people to do kaizen is to create a poor standard. But don't make it too bad. Without some standard, you can't say 'We made it better' because there is nothing to compare it to, so you must create a standard for comparison.

We need to use the words 'you made' as in 'follow the decisions you made.' When we say 'they were made' people feel like it was forced upon them. When a decision is made, we need to ask who made the decision. Since you also have the authority to decide, if you decide, you must at least follow your decision, and then this will not be forced upon you at all.

But in the beginning, you must perform the Standard Work, and as you do, you should find things you don't like, and you will think of one kaizen idea after another. Then you should implement these ideas right away, and make this the new standard.

Years ago, I made them hang the standard work documents on the shop floor. After a year I said to a team leader, 'The color of the paper has changed, which means you have been doing it the same way, so you have been a salary thief for the last year.' I said 'What do you come to work to do each day? If you are observing every day you ought to be finding things you don't like, and rewriting the standard immediately. Even if the document hanging there is from last month, this is wrong.'

At Toyota in the beginning we had the team leaders write down the dates on the standard work sheets when they hung them. This gave me a good reason to scold the team leaders, saying 'Have you been goofing off all month?' If it takes one or two months to create these documents, this is nonsense.

I found this very profound. I saw ghosts of many failed and failing projects pass before my very eyes. First with Rational and then Number Six I've been lucky enough to work with some great people with a passion for change. They find it hard when customers do not embrace improvement so readily. I don't think they set expectations that cannot be met but, they are perhaps naive to assume they will be met immediately.

Maybe it's time to consign to the scrap heap that silly phrase "set the bar high". After all, a high jumper may have lofty ambitions but, they do not set the bar high, a high jumper sets the bar low and then gradually increases the height as they become more comfortable.

Maybe we can draw some inspiration from Taiichi Ohno:
  • Set realistic goals for improvement, goals that can be achieved in the short term
  • Continuously challenge and improve processes
  • Define processes at the workplace not in the laboratory
  • Remember that people are much more likely to follow through on a commitment they made than one that was forced upon them

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