When Ford Was A Startup


800-CEO-READ Blog: When Ford Was A Startup:

Here's a post by Tom Ehrenfeld, a friend of the Lean Blog. He writes about a book from 2004, “Wheels for the World” by Douglas Brinkley. Looking at Ford in the 1910's (the good ole' days), Brinkley wrote:

“.. it was the creation of an atmosphere in which improvement was the real product: a better, cheaper, Model T followed naturally. Every man on the payroll was invited to contribute ideas, and the good ones were implemented without delay.””

Wow, that sounds like kaizen and continuous improvement. In the 1910's. No wonder Toyota gives credit to Henry Ford for giving them many of the concepts that became the Toyota Production System. So when people ask “why didn't Ford adopt lean?”, maybe the question is “why did they get away from lean??”

Update: The NY Times has an article very similar to today's WSJ article that dumps on the “non-lean automakers” (my term, not theirs). The NYT also dug up an old Henry Ford quote that sounds very much like TPS:

“In his 1930 book, “Moving Forward,” Henry Ford wrote that companies were often bedeviled by “the little things that are hard to see — the awkward little methods that have grown up and which no one notices.”

Eliminating those tiny wasteful practices, he wrote, could make a big difference between success and failure.”

The student (Toyota) has surpassed its sensei (Ford).

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Thanks so much for the link, Mark!

    It really is stunning to read the Ford bio and learn about the amazing wave of pioneering improvements that he helped implement in the go-go years of the company–and also somewhat sad when held up to the strategy today. One company was playing offense, with a strategy to win; the other is trying to mount a defense and hoping not to lose.

  2. Ohno does give credit [in Chpater 5 of Toyota Production System – The True Intention of the Ford System, p. 97cf] to the ideas presented in Henry Ford’s 1926 Today and Tomorrow for the ideas incorporated into TPS. And Ford Motor’s Charlie Sorenson developed the basis for JIT and takt time building B-24 bombers at Willow Run.

    I suspect that one thing this shows the real downside to nepotism. Maybe Bill Ford has finally seen that error in his family plot.


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