Taiichi Ohno

Gemba Keiei Chapter 11: Wasted Motion is Not Work

By Jon Miller Updated on May 11th, 2017

In this chapter Taiichi Ohno talks about the importance of training your eyes to see the difference between wasted motion and value added work. Another theme is the way the words you use affect how you think and behave. An English example of this may be the difference between saying “it broke” instead of “I broke it”. He gives several examples from Japanese and Chinese.

The Japanese use Chinese ideograms as part of their writing. These have different pronunciations originating in Chinese. Thus the ideogram “to move” or “ugoku” can also be read “do” (as in the sound Homer Simpson makes). The ideogram “to work” or “hataraku” has nearly the same ideogram and exactly the same pronunciation of “doh” or “dough”.

動 to move

働 to work

To digress for a moment, the dual meaning of “do” is where the clever idea of using jidoka to mean “autonomous working” as in “intelligent automation” or “stop the line” and “built in quality” instead of just “automation” originated. The jidoka which is the pillar of TPS uses the “to work” while the jidoka of “automation” means “self-moving”. Unfortunately it does not translate very well.

Ohno makes a humorous comment about how in the local dialect of Koromo City the Japanese word “move” which is “ugoku” was used interchangeably with “hataraku” or “work”. The translation is a bit awkward, but for instance “She’s moving a lot” might mean “She’s getting a lot of work done”.

Koromo City changed its name to Toyota City. As a result of building the Toyota factories in this city where “to move” means “to work”, Toyota people think motion is work and Ohno struggled to convince people that this was wrong. Human motion is only work when you add your wits to what you are doing, says Ohno.

Taiichi Ohno says the only time motion equals work is when animals in the zoo such as bears, elephants, and monkeys move around and attract visitors. You can charge admission. If the bear is tired and there are no visitors, let the bear rest. Otherwise it is wasted motion. Even the motion of elephants doing tricks is motion plus human wits, Ohno points out.

The important thing is for team leaders and supervisors to be able to distinguish what is wasted motion and what is work. They need to train their eyes to identify how the movements are related to the work being done. Taiichi Ohno gives the example of a machine making parts and a worker carefully stacking them in rows five high. The job of a supervisor is to say “Stop it. That’s waste.”

Ohno gives another Toyota City dialect example of language affecting how you think and behave. When Ohno toured area factories the managers would often use an expression similar to “it was produced” in a passive past tense, rather than saying “we made it” in an active way. The first implies that it happened as a result of some moving about, while the second is a much more deliberate and intentional action.

Whenever Ohno challenged people by asking “Which is it? Did it get made or did you make it?” people generally could not reply, since in either case it was overproduction and they would have to admitted either that they have no control over their factory or that they overproduced knowingly.]

Production Control people of this type who can’t or don’t limit overproduction should hang their head in shame, says Ohno.

  1. Anonymous

    August 9, 2007 - 11:30 am

    Production Control people of this type who can’t or don’t limit overproduction should hang their head in shame, says Ohno.
    Hmmm I WONDER if my company could learn this concept.

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