Should Your COO Learn Japanese?

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By Bill Waddell

(Note from Mark Edmondson: Here's a recent article written by LEAN Affiliate Bill Waddell that I think many of you will find interesting.)

The terms “Lean Manufacturing” and “Japanese” are hardly synonymous. This may come as a shock to a number of manufacturers, and even more consultants, who seem to think that a prerequisite to becoming lean is rote memorization of the Japanese language. In fact, the originators of the Toyota Production System were very forthcoming that they learned it all from Henry Ford.

Most Americans think that Ford's great contribution to manufacturing was the assembly line, but there is no mention of assembly lines in Shigeo Shingo or Taiichi Ohno's writings about the Toyota manufacturing powerhouse. Rather, the principles learned from Ford that made an impression with Ohno and Shingo are based on the relentless pursuit of continuous flow, absolute quality, and effective synchronization. The economic objective Ford, and later Toyota focused on was continually improving real cash flow, rather than the theoretical objective of Return On Investment.

But while Americans are memorizing the seven types of ‘muda' (waste) and proclaiming their lean experts to be ‘sensei', these principles learned from Ford were lost on the American manufacturing community. It turns out they were lost on much of the Japanese manufacturing community, as well…

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