What About The Other Car Makers?

by Dan Markovitz

This blog has commented (here and here) on the WSJ’s rush to predict the folly of just-in-time manufacturing in the wake of the earthquake last week that crippled Japanese auto production. (“Blame it on kanban, the just-in-time philosophy of keeping as little inventory on hand as possible.”)

What’s striking about the WSJ’s maligning of just-in-time is that the earthquake forced the temporary shutdown of nearly 70% of Japan’s auto production — not just Toyota’s. Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Suzuki, and Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru) also had to stop or slow production last week.

So why attack just-in-time? Why not attack mass production, since it clearly didn’t keep the other car companies running? Or the danger of single-source supply for critical parts? Or having factories in Japan, a notoriously earthquake-prone country, for that matter?

Fortunately, Toyota’s president, Katsuaki Watanabe, doesn’t pay too much attention to the shrill cries of the WSJ. He announced that

the company will examine its risk management and risk control and look for ways to become less dependent on single suppliers. He stressed the auto maker won’t change its kanban, or just-in-time, strategy of keeping as little inventory as possible on hand, which reduces warehouse costs and ensures quality.

The solution to these once a decade disasters? Kaizen, of course.

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Dan Markovitz

Dan Markovitz is president of Markovitz Consulting, a firm that radically improves operational speed and efficiency by applying lean concepts to knowledge work. He is a faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute and teaches at the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program. He also lectures on A3 thinking at the Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business. Dan is a frequent speaker and presenter at conferences, and has consulted to organizations as diverse as Camelbak, Clif Bar, Abbott Vascular, WL Gore & Associates, Intel, the City of Menlo Park, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. His book, A Factory of One, was honored with a Shingo Research Award in 2013. Dan has also published articles in the Harvard Business Review blog, Quality Progress, Industry Week magazine, Reliable Plant magazine, and Management Services Journal, among other magazines. All of these articles are available for download on the Resources page. Earlier in his career, he held management positions in product marketing at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger, where he worked in sales, product marketing, and product development. He also has experience as an entrepreneur, having founded his own skateboarding footwear company. Dan lived in Japan for four years and is fluent in Japanese. He holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

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