Workplace Management by Taiichi Ohno

Translated by Jon Miller         order Workplace Management

image of the cover of Workplace Management by Taiichi Ohno

Review by John Hunter for the W. Edwards Deming Institute Newsletter.

Taiichi Ohno is known as the father of the Toyota Production System (TPS), also called lean manufacturing. I see TPS as a system that is very compatible with Dr. Deming's ideas - that includes additional concepts and techniques not explicitly mentioned by Dr. Deming. This is no surprise given Toyota's early experience with Dr. Deming and their continued application of his ideas.

Taichi Ohno dictated the text to the Japan Management Association (in a series of interviews in 1982), which gives the book a sense of listening to him talk about the ideas. I found the conversational tone made it very easy to read and reminiscent of Dr. Deming's tone in many places.

He focused a great deal on the faulty perceptions derived from cost accounting thinking. He discussed the importance of not letting your understanding be clouded by thinking with the accounting mindset. "If you insist on blindly calculating individual costs and waste time insisting that this is profitable of that is not profitable, you will just increase the cost of your low volume products. For this reason there are many cases in this world where companies will discontinue car models that are actually profitable, but are money losers according to their calculations. Likewise, there are cases where companies sell a lot of model that they think is profitable but in fact are only increasing their loses." page 32

Another area covered in the book is the whole concept of one piece flow (with quick changeovers of equipment, just in time, small lot production...). This is one of the true innovations within the Toyota Production System. I don't think this book alone can convey how it works and why it is important but this book does a good job of giving another take on these ideas from the person most responsible for making it work at Toyota.

The book is full of wonderful quotes including:

"There is a sequence for implementing automation that must be followed, even though it is hard. Automation just for its own sake is a problem." page 81

"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 here is from last month this is wrong." page 125

And the funny: “There is a huge difference between being told to do something in Japan but believing it cannot be done, and being told the same thing in Brazil by a bossy Japanese man with a mustache and believing it can be done." page 65

Workplace Management has earned a place among my favorite management books. I highly recommend it for all those interested in Dr. Deming's ideas. John Miller's blog includes a series of posts the he wrote while translating the chapters of the that give you a great sense for what the book offers. His blog also offers a great resource for learning much more about all aspects of lean manufacturing.

My other favorite management books: The Leader's Handbook by Peter Scholtes; The New Economics by W. Edwards Deming; Fourth Generation Management by Brian Joiner; Lean Solutions by James Womack and Daniel Jones; Ackoff's Best by Russell Ackoff and The Improvement Guide by Gerald Langley, Kevin Nolan, Clifford Norman, Lloyd Provost and Thomas W. Nolan.