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Taiichi Ohno's Workplace Management

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 09-06-08

Author: Taiichi Ohno, translated by Jon Miller

Publication Date: 2007

Book Description: What’s the key message?

Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management was directly written by Taiichi Ohno, founder of the Toyota Production System. Many of his writings were transcriptions and interpretations of the man himself, leaving the reader to wonder how accurately it reflected the thoughts of this transformational leader. Jon Miller, both an experienced lean expert and fluent in Japanese, provides this latest translation and re-release of what should be a staple of every lean library.

Although much of the learning comes in the form of specific nuggets of knowledge and subtle points and hints, a major theme throughout the book is the focus on the “gemba” or real place. The message is that you can’t effectively lead, manage, solve problems or improve without a relentless focus on the gemba. This means not only is this where you spend your time, where the work is done, but also it is what you seek to understand. He asks you to put aside your assumptions and see what is really occurring.

The topics covered are sometimes obscure but designed to shape the thinking and mindset that is presented. Chapters and topics include things such as “Agricultural People Like Inventory,” “The Blind Spot in Mathematical Calculations,” and &ldqo;Wits Don’t Work Until You Feel the Squeeze.” Chapters also include clearly related topics such as just-in-time and jidoka.

How does it contribute ot the lean knowledge base?

It a sense, the book doesn’t just contribute; it is the base on which everything else is built. Although no one person invented lean, the Toyota Production System is held up as the model and no man contributed more than Taiichi Ohno. As a result, this book is to lean what Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is to economics or Socrates is to philosophy.

It was written after the fact, so it is not a documented history of what was going on during the most transformational years of the organization. It is the reflections of Ohno at the end of his career.

What are the highlights? What works?

Ohno uses a combination of direct logical argument, stories and analogies to paint a picture for his audience, the same you might expect to do in coaching his employees during the transformation of Toyota. While you might not use this book to engage in your early learning of lean, it will help sharpen the mind towards lean thinking.

What are the weaknesses? What’s missing?

First, the book is not the work of a professional author. There is not a clear flow to the book, it is not easy to draw the intended conclusions and there is a substantial amount of redundancy throughout the book. Furthermore, there are chapters on unrelated topics such as one about issues within Japanese politics from the 1980s which is clearly not within the focus of the book.

Second, this book will not provide clear answers to either organizations or individuals seeking an answer to the question “what should I do?” It is not focused on either providing transformation roadmaps or on practical application advice. It will also not provide answers to “what is lean?” If you are seeking these answers, as many readers are, this is not a book to start with. This book should not be the first or second book on your list, although for anyone reading deeper and developing a more substantial interest, it is a must read.

How should I read this to get the most out of it?

Because of it’s writing style and fragmented writing, it is not idea for study groups or classrooms. Some readers will surely dislike the style. This book is best if read with an intent to enjoy it and reflect inwardly. If you are in a position of coaching others, the line of thought presented in this book will help you become a better coach.

Comments

  • While no one person invented lean, no one is given more credit than Taiichi Ohno. Access to his true thoughts and ideas are rare, and this book is the best and most useful of Ohno’s work. Many lean students would want nothing more than to spend a day with Taiichi Ohno walking through their plant. This book is the closest thing we have left to that experience. Jon Miller has done a diligent job not just in translation but ensuring that the true meaning comes through in a readable fashion. You truly feel as if you are in conversation with the father of the Toyota Production System. While this book won’t paint a clear picture of what to do next on your lean journey, it should be required reading for any serious student of the subject.

    Jamie F February 28, 2009 at 6:25 am
  • While no one person invented lean, no one is given more credit than Taiichi Ohno. Access to his true thoughts and ideas are rare, and this book is the best and most useful of Ohno’s work. Many lean students would want nothing more than to spend a day with Taiichi Ohno walking through their plant. This book is the closest thing we have left to that experience. Jon Miller has done a diligent job not just in translation but ensuring that the true meaning comes through in a readable fashion. You truly feel as if you are in conversation with the father of the Toyota Production System. While this book won’t paint a clear picture of what to do next on your lean journey, it should be required reading for any serious student of the subject.

    Jamie F February 28, 2009 at 6:25 am
  • While no one person invented lean, no one is given more credit than Taiichi Ohno. Access to his true thoughts and ideas are rare, and this book is the best and most useful of Ohno’s work. Many lean students would want nothing more than to spend a day with Taiichi Ohno walking through their plant. This book is the closest thing we have left to that experience. Jon Miller has done a diligent job not just in translation but ensuring that the true meaning comes through in a readable fashion. You truly feel as if you are in conversation with the father of the Toyota Production System. While this book won’t paint a clear picture of what to do next on your lean journey, it should be required reading for any serious student of the subject.

    Jamie F February 28, 2009 at 6:25 am