Taiichi Ohno – The original sensei

Taiichi Ohnoai??i??s ai???Workplace Management, 100th Birthday Editionai??? was the perfect book to read on a long flight. The chapters are short but intense. You can read a chapter or two and then sit back close your eyes and reflect on the wisdom you just read. If blogging was in fashion during Ohnoai??i??s time, I think he could have been one of the original business bloggers. Think of this book as a collection of stand-alone blogs. Each chapter is 3-4 pages. The translation does not flow perfectly, but like Jon Miller discusses in the Afterword the Japanese language is complicated, a smooth English translation isnai??i??t always possible and each chapter does not lead directly into another. The Afterward it was explained that this book wasnai??i??t meant to go from chapter to chapter perfectly but rather to be a collection of interviews and wisdom.

Be warned, Workplace Management is not an ai???introductoryai??? lean read and would not be a good choice for someone with little or no background in the topics. It really digs to the core of how Ohno drove operational excellence within Toyota. Time for reflection is a critical piece to truly absorbing the material. One reading was sufficient for me. I discuss at the end my intentions for using this book in my continued learning.

For me, the biggest take away from this book is how Ohno separates and prioritizes kaizen. My early learning I was taught that ai???kaizen was kaizenai???. Any improvement was good improvement. Ohno discusses three specific types of kaizenai??i??Manual Work, Equipment and Process Kaizen. His key point is that manual work kaizen is ALWAYS the first place to start. Equipment and Process kaizen have a place, but not until manual work improvement is well established.

A second takeaway is counter-intuitive to much of my learning and that is not to worry about the categorizing waste. In one of the sections Ohno discusses how more modern books have focused on identifying and reducing the 7 wastes. He makes it clear that classifying and categorizing waste for the sake of doing it is not worthwhile. To briefly paraphrase the Master, anything that adds cost without adding value should be eliminatedai??i??.period. Donai??i??t worry if itai??i??s motions or waiting or whatever. Experiment..improve..repeat!

What surprised me the most was Ohnoai??i??s approach to management. Toyota with its well-established philosophy of respect for humanity/people I was surprised that Ohno actually encourages ai???scoldingai??? managers. Not only that but scolding them at the gemba. This is contrary to so much of todayai??i??s leadership training. Modern wisdom says not to ai???scoldai??? but to coach these people off line. His argument is that workers want to see support. When something isnai??i??t right workers need to see management addressing it swiftly and with vigor. Having held middle level management positions, I can see how Ohno must have been difficult to work with. But in other chapters, he says when you are wrong, no matter what your rank or title, admit it swiftly and sincerely.

Another lesser surprise is a modern Lean Myth debunked. It is well documented in many of the original Japanese translated books from authors such as Ohno-san and Shingo-san, kaizen IS about reducing costs. I have great respect for many of todayai??i??s lean bloggers and podcast hosts who discuss that you focus on the process and the costs will follow. Ohno is clear, we do improvement not for improvementai??i??s sake we do it to reduce costs.

I loved this entire book, but my absolute favorite part was not originally included in the first editionai??i??in the Afterward there is a section called The Sayings of Ohno. These 4-5 pages have single sentence quotes on specific topics. I know that quotes alone donai??i??t paint the entire picture, but they continue to paint the picture of what Ohno created.

In summary, I plan on using this book in the future a little differently – Not to read cover to cover as I did this time at 30,000 feet, but to read a single chapter a week and to deeply reflect on that chapter throughout the week. Since format of this book is that each chapter is short and is a stand-alone piece of work I think this is very feasible and could add a lot of value to my continued learning.

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