Inside the mind of Taiichi Ohno

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on September 22, 2009 · 4 comments

A book that is more obscure than it deserves is Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management. When most people think of this father of the Toyota Production System, they focus on Taiichi Ohno’s Toyota Production System book. However, that book is more transcribed from Ohno’s thoughts. Workplace Management is more direct, and much more of his advice for actually managing the operation.51EzaJPnw-L._SL500_AA240_.jpg

To fully be clear about my opinion, I actually think that people focus too much on Toyota. Copying Toyota is not the goal. You shouldn’t strive to be “the Toyota of the plastics industry” or “the Toyota of the chain link fence industry.” You should be focused on your own goals and focus on what works for you. What works for Toyota may not be what is right for you. I see people taking the “what would Toyota do?” approach so far that they copy things that would only make sense in the auto industry.

Jon Miller of Gemba Research transcribed this book recently in order to republish it. This is not a first book to read if you are interested in lean. But if you want to understand the roots of lean, and the mind of one of the masters, this is a great book to read. And you can check out a more thorough review at The Lean Library.

Which Taiichi Ohno book do you prefer, Toyota Production System or Workplace Management?

1 Jon Miller September 23, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Hi Jamie,

Thanks for featuring Ohno’s book. Another good book featuring interviews with Ohno’s students and their memory of him as a teacher during the early days of Toyota development of the lean system is The Birth of Lean published by LEI.


2 Ron Pereira September 24, 2009 at 10:00 pm

I absolutely loved this book… in fact I’ve read it several times. It’s simple yet profound. I highly recommend it to anyone serious about learning the ‘why’ of lean instead of just the ‘how.’

Oh, and welcome to the blogosphere Jamie! I look forward to learning from your wisdom!

3 Bob MacPherson September 25, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Wise caution to companies that want to be like Toyota. Now granted, most of my experience is with Ford, GM, and AB Volvo, but I have also done work with Alcoa and a number of smaller suppliers who stumble and fail trying to take short cuts on their way to seeking the Holy Grail. Too often, the main customers are engineers whose lifelong focus on tools actually works against them. None of this stuff, no matter how well executed from a tools standpoint, will stand the test of time if you have not addressed the culture and more specifically, the person who is at the heart of it all.

4 Jamie Flinchbaugh September 25, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Thank you all for your comments.

Bob, the person is at the heart of it all. TPS is first and foremost a human system. This is why Toyota always says they are building people before building cars. The only thing that differentiates a company over the long term is the capabilities and creativity of the people; everything else can be copied.


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