In a previous Book Review of The Toyota Mindset, I promised to highlight each chapter of that book, showing actual stories from those who associated with Taiichi Ohno. In a previous post, I shared Taiichi Ohno’s belief that Wastes Hide, Begin by Disclosing Mistakes. In this post, we discuss the concept of Observation at the Gemba.
To read my reviews of Wakamatsu’s book on Taiichi Ohno, please visit the links below.
- Taiichi Ohno on Standard Work
- Taiichi Ohno on Genchi Genbutsu
- Do Not Act Spoiled
- Learn from Previous Masters
- Wastes Hide, Disclose All Mistakes
- Truth and Understanding
- Innovation and Craftiness
- Teach Others to Think
- Intelligent Automation
- Taiichi Ohno on Leadership
Stand and Observe the Shop Floor
The author, Yoshihito Wakamatsu shares a poingnant story about a young Toyota worker he calls Mr. C:
Ohno pointed his finger at the floor and said to Mr. C, “Draw a circle here with chalk”.
Mr. C was confused but did as he was told to do, and drew a small circle on the floor.
“You Idiot! How are you going to stand in such a small circle?” Ohno asked.
Mr. C then redraw the circle large enough that he could stand in it. And so, he stood – for several hours until he had to use the restroom. On his way back from the restroom, Taiichi Ohno scolded Mr. C for not having asked permission.
At the end of the day, Taiichi Ohno asked:
“So, have you figured it out yet?” asked Ohno.
“I have no idea,” answered Mr. C.
“I see. You can go home now, but you will need to stand here tomorrow as well” answered Ohno.
Mr. C almost brought himself to ask Ohno what this was all about but he knew that Ohno would ask him to figure out the answer to his own question.
The next day, Mr. C came into work and met with Taiichi Ohno at lunch; then this conversation took place:
“Have you figured this out yet?”
“Yes, there’s a problem”, Mr. C answered.
Ohno did not ask him what he discovered, but insted pointed a finger at the shop floor and said “Observe how the shop floor workers conduct their operations. You told me that that you had continuously improved the shop floor but it has gotten worse because of your instructions! If you know what the real problem is now, go and fix right away.”
Taiichi Ohno’s approach in this story focused on three things:
- Observe the shop floor closely.
- See through a continuous improvement activity and confirm the positive results with your own eyes.
- Let the student answer his or her own question.
In Wakamatsu’s words:
You will begin to establish the most effective solution by persistently searching for truths and observing every process on the shop floor repeatedly until the real issues are discovered. The Toyota Production System (TPS) has strongly encouraged this self-training process among their workers in order to promote the most effective problem-solving skills.
The Case of the Missing Kanban Cards
In one instance, Mr. D was instructed to train a component supplier on the Toyota Kanban system. After implementation, the supplier occasionally lost the Kanban Cards. This was a problem because if a Kanban did not reach the shop floor, then production would not begin, potentially leading to underproduction or not meeting customer demand. If the Kanban cards were alter found, that situation could potentially lead to overproduction, or producing where there is no demand. Mr. D’s job was to figure out and solve the missing Kanban card problem.
Instead of finding the root cause of the missing Kanban card problem, Mr. D increased the number of Kanban cards. When Taiichi Ohno found out about this, the following discussion took place:
“You did not even attempt to look for the missing Kanbans and decided to replace them with new ones without permission. Go back to the shop floor and find those missing Kanbans immediately.”
Mr. D was intimidated by Ohno’s furious behavior and spent more than one hour searching for the missing Kanbans. He had absolutely no luck and told Ohno, “I looked everywhere for the missing Kanbans, but I could not find them.”
Ohno replied, with the same level of intensity as before, “What do you mean by you looked everywhere? You only spent one hour of your time!”
After going back to the shop floor and, with more diligence, searched for the missing Kanban cards, he reported back to Taiichi Ohno:
“I found them finally!” Mr. D said happily.
Instead of responding proudly and joyfully, Taiichi Ohno said “Have you already implemented a solution for that?”
It turns out that Mr. D’s assignment wasn’t just to find the missing Kanban cards, but to diligently do root cause analysis and implement countermeasures for the missing Kanban card problem. Instead, all Mr. D did was search for the missing Kanban cards.
This story teaches us the following lessons:
- Don’t implement superficial solutions, because they aggravate the original problem (increases the number of Kanban cards)
- Diligently conduct root cause analysis and quickly implement countermeasures that reduce or eliminate the root cause(s)
In Wakamatsu’s words:
Ohno taught me the difference between “fixing” the problem and “patching” (first aid) the problem. When a machine breaks down it may require some first-aid repairs, such as replacing parts. However, the machine is most likely going to break down again, as the true cause of the problem was never fixed at the core. This is just “patching” the problem and is not “fixing” the problem. “Fixing” seeks out the true cause of a problem and removes it so that the same mistake is never repeated. “Fixing” is one of the most important practices at Toyota. Toyota also applies this practice beyond machineries to many other sorts of problems so that a strong-minded shop floor is established in the end.
Overconfidence, Humility, and the Sword
According to Wakamatsu, Taiichi Ohno was always weary of overconfidence in continuous improvement, calling it a “stumbling block” to further improvement. Taiichi Ohno shared this story to illustrate his point:
He used the story of a student and master of Japanese sword fighting. To become a sword fighter, a student trains under his master in the beginning. After vigorous training the student was able to win one game out of three from his respected master. If he thinks and feels satisfied here, “I can win one game out of three against my master, therefore there is nothing more for me to learn,” he ceases to improve himself beyond this point . . . Ohno thought that being satisfied with your own continuous improvement was like being content with winning only one game of sword fighting out of 3, and that such workers would be limiting their own potential to grow.
According to Wakamatsu, Ohno used to say:
“Forget about what you accomplished yesterday. Do not think about tomorrow either. Something is wrong and wasteful with what you are doing now and today. There is still room for continuous improvement as we speak.”
In the next post, I’ll cover the Taiichi Ohno’s belief in the following:
- Increasing Production while limiting the number of workers is the only way to gain true success.
- Lead them to an answer, but don’t give it away.
- Reverse your thinking process.
- Motivating people requires swaying their emotions.
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Agile Scout says
Thanks a bunch for sharing this! Makes us want to get the book and check it out!
Thanks for the great Ohno stories!
Can you give me Mr. D’s phone number? I’m interested in finding a solution to missing kanban cards as well 🙂
I had a non-Japanese executive ask me if I had lost my mind after he saw me in the same spot for 2 days….. Alas, I found the real problem but lost the confidence of the executive. Win some:lose some.