The Idea of Wa in Nemawashi:


In today’s post, I will be looking at Nemawashi and the idea of “Wa”. “Nemawashi” literally means to “dig around the roots” so that you can successfully transplant a plant from one location to the other. Nemawashi is considered to be an important part of Hoshin Kanri (Policy Deployment) as a means to get group consensus. Toyota puts great emphasis on building consensus. In fact, Toyota defines “Genchi Genbutsu” as “go to the source to find the facts to make correct decisions, build consensus and achieve goals at our best speed.”

Why is building consensus such an important thing? One logical answer is that if you do not have consensus then you do not have buy-in from everybody, and your goals will not be achieved. My best understanding is that this is all about “Wa”. “Wa” can be translated from Japanese as “group harmony”. This is a very important cultural concept for the Japanese. The idea of “wa” is so important to them that the term “wa-fu” means “Japanese-Style”.

Dig Around the Roots:

The idea of nemawashi comes from the world of gardening. The gardener transplants a plant with great care. This would mean that the dirt around each root is carefully moved so that the act of transplanting does not shock the plant. This is an act of care and attention.

Nemawashi serves the most important role of not disrupting harmony in the organization. Nemawashi is a process of building consensus. The main idea of nemawashi is to get buy-in from everybody involved and this can be often done “before” the idea is formally introduced in a larger group setting. This can be done as a one-on-one casual chat over lunch or playing golf, or as an informal sub-group meeting with 2 or 3 people. These kinds of conversations are open and allows for the voices of both parties to be heard. The proposal can be polished based on the initial feedback so that when it is officially presented, it does not get rejected. A good nemawashi would have feedback from all of the key influencers before the idea is introduced in a formal group setting. A good nemawashi goes through several iterations so that each feedback, concern or hesitation, is carefully addressed. Sometimes one has to go back to the drawing board based on the strong opposition from a key-player. All of this is done before the idea is formally introduced. The “roots are loosened” through this process so that the idea (plant) can be safely transferred to be deployed. The nemawashi process can be a lengthy process since each person making the decision is given a chance to separately weigh in, and the appropriate modifications are made and consensus is again obtained.

It is interesting to note that in the Japanese culture, there are few surprises allowed in a meeting. This is against the idea of wa. The meeting is conducted to formally agree on things that are already informally agreed upon, and to report/share statuses. The key players in the meeting are already made aware of all the important matters in advance of the meeting. This clearly shows the respect for wa. In contrast, in the western world, the meeting is a means for people to talk about things and sometimes debate. This approach in the Japanese world would make everybody uncomfortable since they are debating in the open and the harmony is disrupted. All the discussion and debate is done offline in a much smaller group setting. This way nobody has to publically concede or compromise.

One of the systems used to document the nemawashi process is the Ringi system that uses an A3 size document. This document clearly states the purpose of the project, the current state, the ideal state, the proposed countermeasures, the cost information etc. All of this is contained in the A3 size paper. This is not the same as the A3 thinking in Lean. The Ringi system is simply a proposal approval system.  This is also referred to as Ringi-sho system.

Final Words:

My purpose for today’s post was to give some background on the concept of nemawashi and to explain the philosophical and cultural importance of nemawashi in Japan. The concept of nemawashi is strongly rooted in the concept of wa – group harmony. I will finish this post with an interesting anecdote (in his words) from Don George at National Geographic that further explains the idea of wa.

In my lecture I’d recounted one experience I had at the very beginning of the trip after checking into our hotel in Kyoto. I was in the lobby elevator, headed for my room on the ninth floor, when two beautiful kimono-clad Japanese women entered and pressed the button for the fifth floor. As the elevator rose, we exchanged pleasantries in Japanese. When it stopped on their floor and the door opened, they both bowed to me and one said, “O saki ni, shitsurei shimasu”—essentially, “Excuse me for leaving the elevator before you.”

My unspoken reaction at the time had been, “Well, since your room is on the fifth floor and mine is on the ninth, you really don’t need to apologize for getting out before me.” But of course, that was beside the point. We were sharing the experience of being in the elevator together, and they were breaking that happy harmony by departing before I did. And so in consideration of that, it was only proper to apologize.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Goal of Lean.

The Goal of Lean:


I was talking to my friend at work, who I consider to be very knowledgeable and wise. He told me something that I have not heard before.

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better, and your better is best.”

I looked this up, and I saw that this quote is attributed to St. Jerome (347-420 A.D). This succinctly summarizes the idea of kaizen. Kaizen is Japanese for “change for the better”. It is not asking you to change from good to best, overnight. It is asking you to change from good to better, and then from better to best. The advice of “never let it rest” indicates that it is an ongoing process. The best is always yet to come.

It is a Journey:

I have often heard about lean being a journey and not a destination. This means that you are not to look at lean as an end goal. It is about improving little by little and is never ending. It is an ongoing journey where your goal is to simply improve from the day before. Counter-intuitively the goal of lean is not to set a goal that is attained and to stop doing lean. The goal of lean is to just do lean.

In this regard, lean does not talk about setting goals. It focuses on creating a self-sustaining system – a never-stopping engine that keeps moving towards the ideal state. Lean is based on long term thinking, and in reality it never reaches the ideal state. However, the ideal state (true north) gives lean a direction to move towards.

I have written about “continuous improvement = kaizen + wisdom”. Instead of setting goals, we should focus on developing our people so that they are engaged in the continuous improvement philosophy. We should focus on setting up processes to ensure kaizen – working smarter and not harder. Develop your people to be aware of waste, and challenge them to improve their processes from where it was yesterday. This single system ensures that your organization keeps on moving towards the ideal state, referred to as True North by Toyota.

It is your job to lay the framework to make them good. Then it becomes their job to make it better. Finally it is both of your jobs to make it the best.

The Story of the Boy and the Jelly Beans:

I will finish this post with a modified version of a story I read a while back:

Once a boy went to a grocery store with his mother. The boy was very well behaved. The shopkeeper was very impressed with his gentle nature. He looked at the boy and pointed towards the glass jar of jelly beans and said.

“Dear child, you can take a handful of jelly beans out of this jar.”

The boy was very fond of jelly beans. He was very happy. He reached in the jar and grabbed a handful. He thanked the shopkeeper politely.

The next week, the boy again returned with his mother. He was again very well behaved. This time too, the shopkeeper invited the boy to take a handful of jelly beans. This time the boy hesitated and looked at his mother. His mother also said, “Take the sweets dear.” The young boy still did not do anything. He simply pointed at his mother. His mother thought that he was being shy and grabbed a handful for the child, and gave the handful to him. The child started smiling again, and thanked the shopkeeper.

Another week went by, and the boy returned to the shop with his mother again. The shopkeeper saw him and offered the jelly beans again. This time too, the boy did nothing. His mother offered to grab a handful. The boy stood still and then shook his head. Seeing this, the shopkeeper offered to grab a handful, and the boy slowly put out both his hands. The shopkeeper gave him a handful of jelly beans. The boy was again smiling and thanked the shopkeeper.

His mother was very curious about the boy’s behavior since she knew how much he loved jelly beans. When they got home, his mother asked him to explain his behavior over the weeks.

“The first time I grabbed a handful, and held your hand I realized that your hand is much larger than mine. I knew I would get more if you grabbed a handful.”

“This time, I saw that the shopkeeper had a larger hand than yours. So I waited until, he would give me a handful. See how much more jelly beans I got?”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Mother of Modern Management.

Ohno and the Gemba Walk:


Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, was a firm believer in “Gemba Kanri” which translates from Japanese as “workplace management”. Taiichi Ohno and Setsuo Mito wrote a conversation-style book called “Why Not Do It Just-In-Time”. This was translated and released in English as “Just-In-Time For Today and Tomorrow”. Taiichi Ohno talked about the essence of gemba walks in the book. He did not call them gemba walks but he used what was well known at that time; Managing by Walking Around (MBWA) to explain his thoughts on gemba walks.

Gemba Walk:

Gemba is the actual place of action. Gemba Walk is thus a walk to and in the gemba. Ohno clearly explained the purpose of going to the gemba: You go to the gemba to understand and grasp the facts. Ohno said the following;

For the manager wandering around the work place, signs, charts, data and standards that accurately measure current work place conditions are indispensible.

Ohno emphasized that doing gemba walks without established standards is not worthwhile. Ohno viewed problems as deviations from the standards, and if the standards are not established, you will not know what to look for. The standards (also called as Standard Work) represent the most effective combination of human activity, equipment activity and the product being produced. The standards are visual and convey three vital pieces of information;

  • Takt time – the rhythm of production. This explains how often a part should come out.
  • Work Sequence – this shows the sequence of how operations are to be performed. The sequence is created with input from the operators, and this is the easiest and the current best sequence of steps to perform the operation.
  • Standard WIP (Work in Process) – this is the quantity of product allowed in the work station, and this also includes the part the operator is working on. Any extra parts are an indication of disruptions.

The idea of Managing by Walking Around was put forth by Tom Peters and Nancy Austin. The intent of MBWA was proposed as a “technology for implementing the obvious.” Mr. Peters and Ms. Austin proposed that MBWA would enable figuring out exactly what needs to be done. MBWA would help finding out the information that is not readily available otherwise. From this aspect, gemba walks also have the same goal – to implement the obvious. MBWA did not explain what to look for or how to find out the information where as Ohno clearly laid out the “what” and the “where”.

Ohno advises to post the standards in each production areas that everyone can see at a glance;

  • What type of work place it is,
  • What the production amount is,
  • What the sequence of operations should be.

This (posting standards) is fundamental and the model for visual control.

Ohno brilliantly described that the production plant is simultaneously a free and generous creature, and an insidious and mischievous nuisance. We should be fascinated by the challenges of discovering ways to deal with this entity. Ohno goes on to explain that for a production plant to properly operate, people should assume leadership and bring out the best in the machines and the system. To do so, people must utilize their intelligence and imagination to improve their work environment as well as investigate problems in the production plant. This is the main idea behind Ohno’s teaching for continuously improving the standards. He would scold the supervisors if the standards are not changed frequently.

The gemba walks often open doors to develop the operators. The first step of kaizen is to teach people how to identify and see waste. This is akin to teaching a person to fish rather than giving him fish every day.

Another aspect that Ohno described was something new to me- he explained that everybody has a principal work place (gemba). However, several of us also have multiple sub-workplaces (sub-gembas). He then stated another reason for doing the gemba walks;

To generate new information and trigger the imagination, a critical mind needs different environments.

My thoughts:

The Gemba Walks provides the meeting ground for top-down and bottom-up management systems. The standards make it easier for management from top-down. The employees are also enabled to make bottom-up proposals since they understand the common goal.

The main purposes of the gemba walks are to identify deviations from the standard, and to look for opportunities to change (improve) the standard.

The following are the desirable outcomes of gemba walks.

  • Self development by observing and learning
  • Developing others to observe and learn
  • Process improvement to establish the next standard
  • Harmony (bringing out the best)

The following are things to keep in mind doing gemba walks;

  • Do not immediately show them how to fix a problem
  • Do not have preconceived notions
  • Show respect, do not be an expert
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Always ask questions as “what should be the ideal state (standards) and what is the current state?” Explain problems always as deviations from the standard.

I will finish this off with a neat Ohno story from the book, “Just-In-Time For Today and Tomorrow”;

Setsuo Mito approached Ohno and asked about the origin of his name – Taiichi.

“Your father probably named you hoping that you would become a ‘patient’ child (nin T AIno)”, Mito said.

Ohno simply replied, “My father named me after his job in Dairen, where he worked with ‘firebricks’ (TAIkarenga)”.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Does Lean = the Elimination of Waste?

Does Lean = the Elimination of Waste?


I have been reading several posts about Lean and Six Sigma. The way the two philosophies apparently differentiate is that Lean is all about eliminating waste, and Six Sigma is all about eliminating variation. As with many concepts in Eastern philosophy, things appear simple at first sight, and as we learn more about it, the concept gets deeper and deeper. In today’s post, I will look at the Toyota Production System in the light of “waste”.

Waste (Muda):

The Japanese word for waste is “muda”. Muda literally means no value. Mu = no or lack of, and da = value. The idea that Toyota Production System is based on the principle of eliminating waste was put forth by Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System. Ohno identified seven types of wastes as follows;

  • Waste of overproduction
  • Waste of time on hand (waiting)
  • Waste in transportation
  • Waste of processing itself
  • Waste of stock on hand (inventory)
  • Waste of movement
  • Waste of making defective products.

A close review of these wastes shows that many of these wastes are interconnected. If you have inventory, you will also have transportation. Waste of processing can also lead to waste of movement. Waste of overproduction is sometimes called as the mother of all wastes since it can lead to all of the other types of wastes. Several practitioners have identified more types of wastes, of which the most popular is the “under utilization of human talent”.

Let’s Go Deeper:

I do not agree with the generalization that lean is about eliminating waste. Toyota speaks about 3 “Mu”s. They are as follows;

  • Muda = waste
  • Muri = overburden
  • Mura = unevenness


Things get complicated when we learn that Toyota uses Muda in 3 different meanings. The Japanese language has several writing systems. Muda has roots in Chinese language. Japanese can write Muda in 3 different writing styles to add particular nuances.

Muda in kanji (based on Chinese scripts) means waste that was created by existing management policies. Muda in hiragana (based on native or naturalized Japanese words) means waste that cannot be eliminated right now. Muda in katakana (based on foreign words or words used with emphasis) means waste that can be eliminated immediately. (Source: Kaizen Express, Toshiko Narusawa and John Shook)

Taiichi Ohno defined the Toyota Production System as follows;

“The fundamental doctrine of Toyota Production System is the total elimination of waste”.


Muri literally means “unreasonable” in Japanese. Mu = No or lack of, and Ri = reason. Both muda and muri can be explained in Japanese as a “lack of something” or as “no + something”. Muri also has several nuanced meanings in Japanese. “Muri suru” in Japanese means “to take things too far” or “to overdo”. In TPS, muri refers to overburdening the operator so that it can result in injuries or defective products. This is akin to saying work harder to produce more products while not improving the process. The standard work is often used as a means to tackle muri.


Mura is defined as “uneven”. I have not seen mura explained as a “lack of evenness” (Mu + evenness) in Japanese. For example, the unevenness is in how we manufacture products. We should produce products so that we can meet the customers’ demands. From a producer’s standpoint, producing product of one type makes the most sense since it maximizes efficiency. This is akin to the famous Ford quote “as long as it is black”. However, each customer is unique. He may want “red” instead of black. He may want a different model than what you want to make. The unevenness is in how the units are being produced without keeping the end picture in mind. TPS utilizes both kanban and heijunka to level production.

Taiichi Ohno defined the Toyota Production System in light of this as follows;

“The goal of the Toyota Production System is to level the flows or production and goods.”

The 3 Mu’s:

The keen learner can see that muda, muri and mura are closely intertwined. Toyota has even defined muri and mura as two forms of muda!

“Both mura and muri are thought of as types of muda, or waste, and should be eliminated.”

Mikio Kitano, former President of Toyota Motor Manufacturing of North America Inc, has identified the order to approach the 3 Mu’s for a new process. (Muri -> Mura -> Muda)

“First, Muri focuses on the preparation and planning of the process, or what can be avoided proactively. And, then, Mura focuses on implementation and the elimination of fluctuation at the operations level, such as quality and volume. The third — Muda — is discovered after the process is in place and is dealt with reactively. It is seen by variation in output. It is the role of Management to examine the Muda, or waste, in the processes and eliminate the deeper causes by considering the connections to Muri and Mura of the system. The Muda – waste – and Mura – inconsistencies – must be fed back to the Muri, or planning, stage for the next project.

The continuous cycle of self-examination allows for the outcomes to continuously improve. This brings in Management’s responsibility:

  • to provide and improve a flexible system, and
  • to connect the workforce and the customer.”

My thoughts:

As I have already stated, I do not believe in the generalization that TPS or Lean is about the elimination of waste. This makes it a tool based system. TPS is a holistic management system. Once we look deeper at how the “waste” is viewed, we understand that this does not mean just seven types of waste.

There is a counter-intuitive aspect to muri. Taiichi Ohno was famous for asking to produce the same amount of products by utilizing fewer employees. He would say to remove one operator and then try to meet the same production numbers. Would this be not adding muri? My understanding on this is that Ohno was very good at identifying all of the non-value adding activities in the process. He was able to see that the production can be run with fewer operators. He wanted to challenge the supervisor and the operators in kaizen by studying their standard work and improving their process.

I will finish off with a zen story about “mu” that I like a lot. This story is similar to this post in that it appears straightforward at first.

A monk asked Joshu, “Does a dog have the Buddha-nature or not?”

Joshu replied, “Mu.”

In this koan/story, Joshu is breaking the conventional thinking of the monk. In Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha-nature is present in all beings including humans and dogs. The answer to the monk’s question should have been “yes”. But the monk’s perspective of nature of existence was one-sided and tunnel-visioned. Joshu challenged this and broke the monk’s mold of thinking by saying the answer “no”.

If Ohno was alive today and one were to ask him whether TPS was about eliminating waste, the master might have replied, “Mu”.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Respect for Humanity in the Light of Quality Control (QC).

Respect for Humanity in the Light of Quality Control (QC):


In my last post, I talked about kaizen in the light of the Toyota Way. In today’s post, we will look at “Respect for People”, the second pillar of the Toyota Way, in the light of Quality Control. I was surprised to find that the theme of “Respect for Humanity” (another name for Respect for People) is a central theme for Quality Control. The Quality Engineer in me smiled happily when I started researching the subject of Respect for Humanity in the light of Quality Control.

The term “Quality Control” or QC does not have the same meaning outside of Japan. The terms Quality Assurance, Quality Control and Quality Management are often used interchangeably. Kaoru Ishikawa, the great Japanese Quality mind, defines QC as;

“To practice in Quality Control is to develop, design, produce and service a quality product which is most economical, most useful, and always satisfactory to the consumer.”

Japan started the QC movement with teachings from Dr. Deming and Juran. QC became the central theme of doing a business through the guidance of Kaoru Ishikawa. Ishikawa interpreted QC as a management system rather than a product control system. He made it about the entire organization. He also played a strong role in developing QC circles. QC circles are small groups of voluntary employees who meet outside of their work schedules to address a known process problem. The scope of QC circles soon included process improvement activities under the term “QC activities”.

Respect for Humanity – an Underlying Theme of QC:

Ishikawa identified the following as the “basic ideas” behind QC circle activities:

  • Contribute to the improvement and development of the enterprise.
  • Respect humanity and build a worthwhile-to-live-in, happy and bright workshop.
  • Exercise human capabilities fully and eventually draw out infinite possibilities.

Ishikawa emphasized this underlying theme in his 1981 book “What is Total Quality Control? The Japanese Way”. The following statements are from the book.

  • Not about Taylorism: “The Taylor method does not recognize the hidden abilities workers possess. It ignores humanity and treats workers like machines.”
  • Respect for Humanity: “The fundamental principle of successful management is to allow subordinates to make full use of their ability.”
  • Respect for Humanity: “The term humanity implies autonomy and spontaneity… People have their own wills, and do things voluntarily without being told by others. They use their heads and are always thinking. Management based on humanity is a system of management that lets the unlimited potential of human beings blossom.”
  • Professionalism: “In the United States and Western Europe, great emphasis is placed on professionalism and specialization… People possess far greater abilities than professionalism is willing to give credit for.”
  • Respect for Humanity: “It is a management system in which all employees participate, from the top down and from the bottom up, and humanity is fully respected.”

My Thoughts:

The two principles of “Respect for Humanity” in the Toyota Way are;

  • Respect, and
  • Teamwork

From the surface, this appears to be all about niceties and “lip service”. Toyota says that making product is achieved through developing people. The process of developing people is thus made into a value-adding activity. Respect for Humanity is when you ensure that the work done is only value-adding. Asking an operator to engage in wasteful activities is not engaging in Respect for Humanity. As John Shook put it – “Don’t waste the operator’s time and effort.”

Engaging in Respect for Humanity is engaging the operator in improving his process through developing him. Interestingly, Respect for Humanity is a two-way street. The operator should be looking at his process and improving it. He should also engage in developing people around him as well. Respect for Humanity is a nice mixture of self-development and mutual-development. It is about creating mutual understanding and mutual responsibility. Toyota calls their production system a “Thinking Production System” because they heavily involve people. Toyota garners their ideas from everyone, from the floor to the corner office.

My personal view is that “Respect for People” is akin to making soup. Hot, hearty and delicious soup is made with many ingredients. It takes energy. It needs participation from all the ingredients. It takes time. It is cooked slow and steady. Any of the ingredients by itself does not taste good. Soup is about the perfect mixture of all the ingredients. The end product is great and no one ingredient stands out. The individual succeeds when the team succeeds. The team grows when the individual grows.

I will finish this post with an old story about soup and participation – The Story of Stone Soup. I have one of the several versions below:

A weary, poor traveler arrived in a small village. He had no food or money and had not eaten in days. The one thing he did have was a cooking pot that he used on those rare occasions when he had something to cook.

The villagers were not willing to give him any food. They complained that they do not have any food at all to share, and that they were hungry themselves. He built a small cooking fire, placed his pot on it, and poured in some water. When a few villagers asked what he was doing, he replied that he was making Stone Soup which was an ancient tasty recipe passed down to him from his ancestors. He then dropped in a smooth, round stone he had in his pocket into the pot.

As the soup warmed, the traveler told the villagers stories of his travels and the exciting things he’d seen. He tasted his soup and said it was coming along nicely, but a bit of salt would bring out the flavor. One curious villager went into her home and returned with some salt for the soup.

A few more villagers walking by stopped to see what was going on when they heard the traveler speaking. The traveler told more stories and said that a couple carrots or onion would be a nice addition to the already delicious soup. So, another villager figured he could give a few carrots and retrieved them from his cellar.

This continued on with the traveler casually asking for onions, seasoning, a bit of meat, celery, potatoes to bring out the full potential of the soup.

Finally, the soup was ready and the traveler shared the delicious soup with everybody. The villagers did not have anything to eat on their own, but when they combined everything they had, they all enjoyed a delicious meal.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was A Brief Look at Kaizen in the Light of the Toyota Way.

Qualities of a Lean Leader:


In today’s post I will look at the qualities of a lean leader. I have been using the term “lean leader” in my posts. This is not an official title, and this does not mean “supervisor” or “manager”. A lean leader is someone who takes initiative in improving one’s process and in developing those around them.

I have wondered which qualities a lean leader needs. I believe that the best source for this is Michael J Gelb’s 1998 book, “How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci.”Michael researched Leonardo’s life and identified seven attributes to help one think like Leonardo Da Vinci. Michael listed them as Italian words to pay homage to the master. These are as follows;

  • Curiosità – An insatiable quest for knowledge and continuous improvement
  • Dimostrazione – Learning from experience
  • Sensazione – Sharpening the senses
  • Sfumato – Managing ambiguity and change
  • Arte/Scienza – Whole-brain thinking
  • Corporalità – Body-mind fitness
  • Connessione – Systems thinking

1) Curiosita:


Being curious is an essential attribute a lean leader should have. Being curious forces you to ask questions. Asking questions allows the other party to be involved. This leads to continuous improvement and discoveries. Michael defined this as “an insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.”

2) Dimostrazione:

Soichiro Honda

This can be described as a willingness to fail in  order to learn from mistakes. Michael described this as “a commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.”The example I have here is of Soichiro Honda. Soichiro did not have any formal education, and he went on to build Honda Motor Co.

3) Sensazione:


Taiichi Ohno would be proud of this attribute. Michael described this as “the continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.” As the lean learners know, Ohno was famous for his “Ohno circle”. Ohno used to teach supervisors, managers and engineers alike to learn to observe the wastes by making them stand inside a hand drawn chalk circle. They had to stay inside there until they start seeing the wastes like Ohno did.

4) Sfumato:

less is more
Sfumato refers to the style of painting Leonardo used. Sfumato is the technique of allowing tones and colors to shade gradually into one another, producing softened outlines or hazy forms. Michael described this as “a willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty.” Toyota Production System has many paradoxes and counter-intuitive principles. Most of this is because of the trial and error methods that Ohno utilized. All of the manufacturing norms were challenged and broken.

5) Arte/Scienza:


This attribute represents the synergy between art and science; logic and intuition. The classic TV show Star Trek played around this theme since the two main characters Spock and Kirk represented logic and intuition respectively. A lean leader needs both logic and intuition in order to develop oneself. Michael described this as “the development of balance between science and art, logic and imagination”.

6) Corporalità:


In the Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi talked about fluidity. “Really skilful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy.”To me, this is the essence of Corporalita. Michael described this as “the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness and poise.” The quality of Corporalita is achieved only through constant practice as one strives towards their ideal state.

7) Connessione:


Dr. Deming and Eliyahu Glodratt would be proud to see this attribute on the list. This attribute is about “systems thinking”. Michael described this as “a recognition and appreciation for the interconnections of all things and phenomena.” A lean leader should be able to see everything from a big picture as well as a small picture view points. My favorite meme about Systems Thinking is the Never Miss A Leg Day meme. Local optimization of the just exercising the upper body leads to poor system optimization (muscular upper body and disproportionate skinny legs).

Leonardo, the Writer:

Leonardo da Vinci was also a writer. In his notebooks, he wrote numerous “jests” and fables. I will finish this post with a jest and a fable from the great mind of Leonardo Da Vinci:

A Jest:

It was asked of a painter why, since he made such beautiful figures, his children were so ugly; to which the painter replied that he made his pictures by day, and his children by night.

 The Tree & the Pole, A Fable:

 A tree which grew luxuriantly, lifting to heaven its plume of green leaves, objected to the presence of a straight, dry old pole beside it.

“Pole, you are too close to me. Can you not move further away?”

The pole pretended not to hear and made no reply.

Then the tree turned to the thorn hedge surrounding it.

“Hedge, can you not go somewhere else? You irritate me.”

The hedge pretended not to hear, and made no reply.

“Beautiful tree,” said a lizard, raising his wise little head to look up at the tree, “do you not see that the pole is holding you up straight? Do you not realize that the hedge is protecting you from bad company?

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Dorothy’s Red Shoes and Toyota.

Dorothy’s Red Shoes and Toyota:

Silver red shoes

Today’s post is about the theme of adapting and not blindly copying something. Lean is the Western cultural interpretation of what is known as Toyota Production System (TPS). Many companies try to implement TPS by simply copying the tools without understanding the context behind them.

Dorothy’s red ruby shoes are cultural icons from the movie “The Wizard of Oz”. All Dorothy had to do to go home was click the heels three times and command to go home. Poof, like magic she returned home. It is not a widely known fact that Dorothy’s shoes in the actual L Frank Baum’s 1900 book were Silver. The shoes’ color got changed to look “iconic” using the new technology in those days – Technicolor. The shoes appeared extra magical when they were ruby red in the movie. In other words, the movie makers adapted the story to the new technology in order to bring out the best.

What did Toyota Do?

Toyota started off as a Loom Company. Kiichiro Toyoda, son of the founder of the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, was interested in automobiles. Kiichiro started the Toyota Motor Corporation with little experience in large scale manufacturing. Toyota Production System has been tremendously studied and almost everybody tries to emulate Toyota. In those days, the best production system was Ford’s Mass Production System. It was very much akin to the lean manufacturing system today. In fact, Toyota sent Engineers to study the Ford Production System so that they could come back and implement it. One of the two Engineers sent was Eiji Toyoda, Kiichiro’s cousin, and later the Chairman of Toyota. Eiji was a strong supporter of Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System.

Toyota was founded from the very beginning with aspirations to become the “Ford of Japan”.(Source: The Toyota Leader, Masaaki Sato 2008)

Toyota discovered that the Ford System as a whole did not work for them. The idea of a moving assembly line and the idea of an employee suggestion system were two concepts that Toyota adopted and started using. However, Toyota could not implement the “large scale” production practices that Ford was using. The Ford System was focusing on producing a limited product line in large quantities. It also focused on increasing the efficiency of each operation by making the lot sizes as large as possible. Inventory was considered as a buffer and a blessing to cover any production interruptions. Toyota simply did not have the capabilities to maintain a large scale production.

Taiichi Ohno found two main flaws in the Ford’s Mass Production System:

  • Only the final assembly line achieved anything resembling continuous production flow. At the component level, there were piles of inventory and very limited flow.
  • Ford was unable to accommodate customer preferences for product diversity. This is akin to the famous quote attributed to Ford – “You can have any color as long as it’s black.”

Source: The Japanese Automobile Industry, Michael Cusumano 1985.

Taiichi Ohno created the Toyota Production System by adapting ideas from Henry Ford, Sakichi Toyoda, Kiichiro Toyoda, and numerous others, including the inventor of the Supermarket System. He learned from failures and the production system evolved through numerous trials and errors. The Toyota Production System is a custom fit tailored suit that fits only Toyota, and nobody else. However, like Ohno did, we can certainly learn and adapt from it.

Why Should I Copy Toyota?

The short answer is – you should not blindly copy Toyota. You have to understand your problems, and then adapt the Toyota Production System and address the solutions to your problems. In an interview in 2001, Hajime Oba, a retired TPS Sensei said the following about blindly copying Toyota:

Big Three managers, he says, use lean techniques simply as a way to slash inventory and are satisfied with that. “What the Big Three are doing is creating a Buddha image and forgetting to inject soul in it,” he says.

My Final Words:

I will finish off with a lesson from the famous martial artist Bruce Lee and a funny story about the dangers of blindly copying. Bruce Lee is also considered to be a great philosopher as well.

His four steps for efficiency were;

  • Research your own experience
  • Absorb what is useful
  • Reject what is useless
  • Add what is essentially your own.

And now the story I heard as a kid in India;

A father was worried about his son’s lack of ability when it came to the English language. English was his son’s second language and he always had trouble with essay writing in the test. The father made his son memorize a short essay “My Best Friend”, since he was sure it would be part of the essay component of the test. The son learned the essay verbatim, and felt good about writing his essay for the test.

Unfortunately, the essay topic was “My Father”. The boy thought for a bit, and then started writing based on what he had memorized.

“I believe I have many fathers. Shankar Pramod is my best father. He lives a few blocks from my house. He comes to visit us every day. My mother loves him very much. A father in need is a father indeed.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Anatomy of an Isolated Incident.

Toyota Production System House – Just-in-Time (JIT) and Jidoka (Part 2):


I talked about the two conceptual houses of Toyota last week. In today’s post we will look JIT and Jidoka, the two pillars of the Toyota Production System house. The two pillars of the TPS house are actually based on the ideas of Sakichi Toyoda (Jidoka) and Kiichiro Toyoda (JIT). Ohno built his production system on the shoulders of these two giants.

Sakichi Toyoda, father of Kiichiro Toyoda, founded Toyoda Automatic Loom Works in 1926. Sakichi was an inventor and considered to be an eccentric (Source: Fifty Years in Motion, Eiji Toyoda 1985). His greatest invention was perhaps the Type G Automatic Loom, a non-stop shuttle change automatic loom. Sakichi sold the license to the Platt Brothers and Co. in England.

There is a great story about Sakichi Toyoda in Eiji Toyoda’s book, regarding the automatic loom invention. The looms used to be manually operated and were made of wood. Sakichi wanted to create a loom that ran on power. The best power source in his days was steam. He purchased a used steam engine to understand how it worked and to use that to power his looms. The looms however did not move because the steam kept leaking. Sakichi took the engine apart and found that the problem was worn down piston rods that caused the steam to leak. This would be an easy fix to have new rods turned down on a lathe. Sakichi, however, did not have access to a lathe. So Sakichi and his team spent a whole night manually filing the rods down! When they put the rods in the engine, it worked.

Kiichiro Toyoda, Sakichi’s son, formed an automotive division under Toyoda Automatic Loom Works. He later spun this off, and created Toyota Motor Company in 1937. He calculated that with a population of one hundred million people in Japan, a car-to-people ratio of 1:10 would equate to ten million cars. If there was a 10 percent replacement per year, this would equate to one million cars. He thought that this was a good reason to start a car company.


Kiichiro Toyoda, who founded the Toyota Motor Corporation, had come up with the idea of making the right parts at the right time, and in the right amount. In those days, the norm was to use a lot production system. This is based on producing parts according to what the operation can produce. Thus, there was a disjoint between what is actually needed, and what the operation produced. The operation tended to produce as much as it could to be efficient. This led to high inventories, which led to large stock rooms to store these inventories. Kiichiro understood that this automatically increased the cost to run the business, something that Toyota struggled with tremendously in the beginning. He decided to switch over entirely to a flow-type production system. He called this the “just-in-time” concept:

“I believe that the most important thing is to ensure that there is neither shortage nor excess, that is, to ensure that there is no excess labor and time for the designated production. There is no waste and there is no excess. It means not having to wait for parts to be circulated around. For Just-in-Time, it is important that each part be ready ‘just in time’. This is the first principle of increasing efficiency.” (Source: July 1938 issue of Motor, Toyota-Global website)

Just make what is needed in time, but don’t make too much.” (Source: Fifty Years in Motion, Eiji Toyoda 1985)

Kiichiro wrote a four inch binder manual detailing his ideas for JIT. His ideas were used at Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, which is where Taiichi Ohno first joined Toyota at. Kiichiro tried to implement this at the Koroma plant, Toyota’s second automotive manufacturing facility. It did not take hold at the Koromo plant due to part shortages when the war with China (2nd Sino-Japanese War and World War II) expanded into the Pacific. It is said that Eiji Toyoda, Kiichiro Toyoda’s cousin, requested Ohno’s help to implement Just-in-Time at the Koroma plant.

Mr. Ohno”, Eiji said, “this plant looks like a storeroom. Can you do something to take care of this?” Eiji wanted to pleasantly surprise the big man (Kiichiro Toyoda) and show that Just-in-Time was already in operation at the Koroma plant. (Source: The Toyota Leaders, Massaki Sato.)

It should be noted that Eiji Toyoda was a strong supporter of Taiichi Ohno, and stood behind him when he was developing the system. In Taiichi Ohno’s words – “Our approach has been to investigate one by one the causes of various unnecessaries in manufacturing operations and to devise methods for their solution, often by trial and error.”

Ohno would later on create the Kanban system to incorporate the Just-in-Time philosophy.


Jidoka in Japanese stands for “automation”. Toyota added an extra character representing “human” in Japanese to mean “autonomation” or “automation with a human mind”. In Japanese, both words can be expressed as “Jidoka”. The word autonomation comes from joining “autonomous” and “automation”.

There are two approaches to autonomation at Toyota. The first approach is to separate the operator’s work from the machine’s work. This means to treat the operator as being independent of the machine, or in other words the operator can operate multiple machines simultaneously. The norm had been to have one operator dedicated to one machine only. The operator had to watch the machine work, while not creating value at the same time. In his mind, he was creating value by simply watching the machine operate. The second approach is to have the machine detect an anomaly and stop by itself. This would prevent the machine from producing more defects. Additionally this will also force the operator to fix the problem immediately to maintain the flow of the process. Both of these ideas belonged to Sakichi Toyoda, father of Kiichiro Toyoda. His Type G loom was an automatic loom that stopped on its own when any of the threads broke. Thus, the loom did not continue producing defectively. Sakichi had successfully implemented the two approaches at the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works. At the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, one operator could operate 25 automatic looms at the same time.

Soon after World War II, Kiichiro declared the company goal of catching up with America’s productivity within 3 years. In order to do this, Taiichi Ohno used the idea of having an operator in charge of multiple machines at a time. This increased the productivity by many fold. However, this came with its own problems. The machines were not aligned properly so that when the machine was done with its operation, instead of stopping it kept on making parts. Additionally, if the machine malfunctioned, it continued making defective parts. Thus, even though the productivity increased, it put a strain on process flow and quality.

In order to counter the flow problems, Ohno utilized machine layout and limit switches so that the machine stopped producing when the required amount of parts were produced. For the quality problems, Taiichi Ohno utilized the second approach of Jidoka, to have the machine stop production on its own when there is a problem or when the required quantity is made. This idea of Jidoka is to build in quality, ensuring that defective parts are not passed to the next station. This theme evolved into empowering the operator and giving him the authority and responsibility to stop the line if they identified a problem on the line. The operator would pull on the andon cord which would trigger an audio and visual signal for the lead or supervisor to come and help in fixing the problem. If the problem is not fixed in the allotted time, the entire line will stop until it is fixed.  Jidoka develops the operators to look for problems and then solve it. Jidoka thus evolved into a strong training tool and an employee empowerment tool for Toyota. Jidoka placed a spotlight on problems.

Final Words:

Ohno created the Toyota Production System based on the ideas from Kiichiro Toyoda (Just-in-Time) and Sakichi Toyoda (Stop on Defect).  It should be noted that all of the “tools” in TPS were created for the two pillars to work effectively. At first, the goal of TPS was to increase productivity to catch up with Detroit. However, as the productivity increased, it became necessary to maintain quality, and to ensure that the employees are challenged to continuously improve their processes.

I will finish off with an Ohno story. This was told by Michikazu Tanaka in the 2009 book “The Birth of Lean.”

Ohno was very interested in the Supermarket system that was in America. Ohno explained with passion to Tanaka how Toyota can utilize the concept of a Supermarket. Tanaka could not quite grasp the concept since supermarkets were still a foreign concept in Japan, where the shopkeepers fetched the items for the customers. Tanaka was amazed that the shopkeepers would let the customers freely pick what they want from the display, and pay as you go out.

“What would happen,” he asked Ohno, “if someone went in and ate a bunch of food without paying?”

Ohno was stumped and he did not have a good answer for Tanaka. He thought for a while, and said “I suppose that Americans are a people of integrity and they would know not to do that!”

Later on when Ohno implemented kanbans, he told the people on the floor Kanban is like money; if you take out parts without kanban, you are stealing the parts”. (Source: The Evolution of a Manufacturing System at Toyota, Fujimoto)

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Two Houses of Toyota.

The Two Houses of Toyota (part 1):


Toyota is famous for manufacturing automobiles. You may not know that Toyota also builds residential houses. You can learn more about it here. I will not be talking about the real livable Toyota houses today. I will be talking about the “conceptual” Toyota houses.

A lean enthusiast is familiar with the Toyota Production House. The house has two pillars – Jidoka and Just-in-Time. In 2001, Toyota revealed their organization’s guiding principles known as the Toyota Way. The Toyota Way also has two pillars – Continuous Improvement and Respect for People. There are literally thousands of depictions of the Toyota houses available online. The majority of these were created by non-Toyota people. I wanted to use only the depictions from a Toyota website.

The first house is the “Toyota Production House”. The picture below is taken from a Toyota Europe Forklift brochure. The reader can click on the picture to open the link to the brochure.


The second house is the “Toyota Way” house. The house below is taken from the Toyota Italy website. The reader can click on the picture to open the link.


First Descriptions of the Pillars:

From what I could find, the two pillars of TPS were first described officially in the “The first book of Toyota Production System”, an internal document released in 1973. The two pillars were later described in Taiichi Ohno’s 1978 book – “Toyota Production System”. Detailed descriptions of Respect for People and Continuous Improvement can also be found in the “The first book of Toyota Production System.” However, the Toyota Way house was not described in these earlier documents as it is currently.

It is interesting to note that starting in 1945, Taiichi Ohno began developing the Toyota Production System, but did not have the system documented until later. Norman Bodek, in his Foreword to Taiichi Ohno’s book “Toyota Production System” speculated that Ohno had feared Americans would discover his ideas and use them against the Japanese.

Fujio Cho, who was one of the people behind “The first book of Toyota Production System”, co-authored the 1977 paper “Toyota production system and Kanban system, Materialization of just-in-time and respect-for-human system”. This paper is available here. The roots of Toyota Way can be found in the paper. The section below is taken from the paper, and it is evident that Fujio Cho, the main architect of the Toyota Way 2001, had been thinking about the strategy for Toyota Production System:

Toyota is planning and running its production system on the following two basic concepts. First of all, the thing that corresponds to the first recognition of putting forth all efforts to attain low cost production is “reduction of cost through elimination of waste”. This involves making up a system that will thoroughly eliminate waste by assuming that anything other than the minimum amount of equipment, materials, parts, and workers (working time) which are absolutely essential to production are merely surplus that only raises the cost. The thing that corresponds to the second recognition of Japanese diligence, high degree of ability, and favoured labour environment is ” to make full use of the workers’ capabilities”. In short, treat the workers as human beings and with consideration. Build up a system that will allow the workers to display their full capabilities by themselves.

The Relationship Between the Two Houses:

Simon Dorrat, Manager of Toyota’s Business Intelligence function (2008 – 2013), has succinctly summed up the relationship between the two houses:

“The Toyota Production System is a practical expression of The Toyota Way – principles that guide everything we do in Toyota, based on Continuous Improvement and Respect for People.”

The Toyota Way 2001 represents the “What” and the “Why”, while the TPS House represents the “How”. In some ways this is akin to strategy and tactics.

Final Words – Even Ohno is fallible:

I will be exploring the pillars of the two Toyota houses in the future. I will finish this post with an Ohno story about Jidoka, one of the two pillars of the TPS house.

Even though Taiichi Ohno was a proponent of Genchi Genbutsu (Going to Gemba to learn actual facts), he was not infallible at this. Taiichi Ohno opened up in an interview with Michael Cusumano, author of the 1985 book – “The Japanese Automobile Industry – Technology and Management at Nissan and Toyota”. Ohno revealed that he had never tried to operate more than one machine at a time to see if it is easy or hard.

As part of implementing Jidoka at the Toyota automobile facility (Koroma plant), Ohno separated the operator’s work from the machine’s work. He treated the operator as being independent of the machine, and he had the operator work multiple machines simultaneously. The norm had been to have one operator dedicated to one machine only. The operator felt that he was creating value by simply watching the machine operate. Ohno understood that the operator is not adding value by watching over the machine. However, the operators hated operating several machines at once. Ohno admitted to Michael that he never felt the need to try operating several machines simultaneously to see how easy or hard it was. (Source: The Japanese Automobile Industry – Technology and Management at Nissan and Toyota, Michael Cusumano). Perhaps, it was because Ohno knew that the technique of one operator managing multiple machines was already successfully implemented at Toyoda Automatic Loom Works by Sakichi Toyoda, father of the founder of Toyota Motor Corporation. Ohno started at Toyota by working for the Loom Plant.

Ohno would later add in the interview that “Had I faced the Japan National Railways union or an American Union, I might have been murdered.” Ohno did have the support of the employee union at Toyota, as well as the upper management. Thus there was no immediate danger to Ohno’s life.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Wizard of Oz, Camel’s Nose and Being a Change Agent.

Be an Amateur at the Gemba:


In my last post, I talked about being like a Samurai warrior at the gemba. Today, I am posting about being an amateur at the gemba.

The word “amateur” has roots in the Latin word “amare” which means to love. “Amateur” used to mean someone who is pursuing something out of pure love or passion. Once the word “amateur” entered the English language, it got associated with a negative connotation. Today being an amateur means that one is a mere hobbyist, and may lack experience and knowledge. Today, its meaning does not encompass the meaning of passion that it once used to have.

Taiichi Ohno was a man of passion and was new to the automobile world when he heard Kiichiro Toyoda, the then leader of Toyota, talking about the need for Toyota to catch up with American car manufacturing in three years to survive. Ohno was not an expert in auto manufacturing, and the Toyota Production System did not exist at that time. Ohno called himself a “layman” when it came to the auto industry. However, he did have a tremendous amount of love and passion for the manufacturing world. He was an amateur in the classic and modern sense.

Taiichi Ohno- What would Ohno Do?

Taiichi Ohno graduated from the Department of Mechanical Technology of Nagoya Technical High School in the spring of 1932. He then got a job at Toyota Textiles through his father, who was an acquaintance of Kiichiro Toyoda. He later got transferred to Toyota Motor Company in 1943, when Toyota Textiles was dissolved. At this time, it was declared that the Japanese worker’s efficiency was only 1/9th of that of an American worker. Kichiiro Toyoda gave Toyota the clear vision of catching up to America in three years.

Ohno correctly concluded that the high efficiency of the American operator was not due to him exerting ten times more physically than the Japanese operator. His only logical explanation was that there was a lot of waste in what the Japanese operator was doing. Ohno started experimenting and began planting the seeds of Toyota Production System (TPS). This was where the passion or love of the “amateur” came in. The amateur was not afraid to fail. Each step was a learning step for him. In my eyes, the turning point of TPS came when Ohno realized that he can have one operator take care of more than one machine at a time. The norm in those days was that one operator managed only one machine. The operator was not doing anything while the machine was operating. Ohno put the operator in charge of more than one machine. He had to ensure that the labor content remained the same. The operator was not being required to work harder! Ohno instead focused on the flow of operations. The machines were operated in the order as dictated by the flow of operations. In Ohno’s words;

The first step was to establish a flow system in the machine stop.

Ohno proposed to implement work improvement first, and then to do facility improvement. Ohno experimented with different layouts to improve the flow. Some of them are shown below (U-shape/Bracket, Triangle, Square and Diamond).


Ohno also introduced the idea that to manufacture beyond what is needed is to create waste (waste of over-production). He also introduced the idea of using kanban as a way to ensure a pull system and continuous flow.

One would imagine that Ohno’s ideas would be welcomed with open arms. Instead, he faced a lot of resistance. In fact, his ideas were first called “Ohno’s System” instead of “Toyota Production System”. Gandhi famously stated the following;

“First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”

This was true in Ohno’s case. Ohno was called “Mr. Mustache”. The operators thought of Ohno as an eccentric. They used to joke that military men used to wear mustaches during World War II, and that it was rare to see a Japanese man with facial hair afterward. “What’s Mustache up to now?” became a common refrain at the plant as Ohno carried out his studies. (Source: Against All Odds, Togo and Wartman)

His ideas were not easily understood by others. He had to tell others that he will take responsibility for the outcomes, in order to convince them to follow his ideas. To his credit, he taught his ideas at the top and bottom simultaneously.

Ohno could not completely make others understand his vision since his ideas were novel and not always the norm. His style of production was not being practiced anywhere. Ohno was persistent, and he made improvements slowly and steadily. He would later talk about the idea of Toyota being slow and steady like the tortoise. Many of his ideas were based on trial and error, and were thus perceived as counter-intuitive by others. Ohno loved what he did, and he had tremendous passion pushing him forward with his vision. For this reason, Ohno was truly an “amateur”.

Final Words:

I have cited the example of Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, to propose that one should try to be like him, an amateur – one who has tremendous passion and love for what he does and one who does not mind trying out his ideas even if they might fail. I will finish off with a story I read about Ohno,

As I mentioned above, Ohno’s methods were counter-intuitive in nature. Ohno wanted to increase productivity, and yet not over produce! Ohno in fact called Over-production as the biggest waste of all.

Ohno had started implementing Just-in-Time in the plant. The operators became insecure with this. They felt secure having extra in-process inventory so that they can keep working if there were line stoppages.

Ohno understood this, and became angry about this. He decided to combat this by making the operators take the unneeded material home with them.

“Since the company does not need these things”, he would tell the men as he filled their arms with parts at the end of the day, “you must take them home.”

(Source: Against All Odds, Togo and Wartman)

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Be a Samurai Warrior at the Gemba.