Gemba Keiei Chapter 15: Just In Time

In this chapter Taiichi Ohno discusses “just in time” but spends very little time on how material and information flows in TPS and most of his time wondering about the origin of the English phrase.

Toyota Production System has two pillars: autonomation (jidoka) and just in time but I realized only recently that “just in time” is a created term.

Taiichi Ohno proceeds to explain his theory that Kiichiro Toyoda took the English words and made a unique expression based on Japanese thinking. As a native English speaker I think he’s off base on this theory but his thought process is interesting.

Taiichi Ohno writes:

According to people from countries where they speak English such as America and England the correct phrase is “exactly on time”. The phrase “just in time” does not actually exist.

He can’t be blamed for this misconception. This chapter was written in 1982. Then, as now, it is not rare for English teachers in Japan have dubious credentials.

With his limited English Taiichi Ohno continues to explore the nuances of “timing”, “in time” and “just”. He likens the use of “just” in the phrase “just a moment” to the Japanese “chotto” which means “a little”. Whether being “in time” or asking someone to wait, they key idea is that you are waiting only a little or you are on time only a little and not too much.

Taiichi Ohno says the better word in Japanese is “chodo” which means “just” as in “I just made it” or “just barely”. In other words, if you need material delivered after lunch it should be delivered just around lunch and not in the morning or the day before. That is still “in time” but not “just in time”.

He clarifies the misconception by some English speakers who observe Toyota’s Just in Time and think “exactly on time” places an unreasonable burden on suppliers. Taiichi Ohno says that if a delivery is needed for use at 1PM, an 11AM is delivery is OK but a 9AM delivery is not OK.

A deliver 2 hours in advance of the time of use allows for 1 or 2 hours of inventory so that by the time the line is empty the new material will be available. Just in Time at Toyota is not about holding suppliers to a 5 or 10 minute “exactly on time” delivery window and punishing suppliers if they fail.

Taiichi Ohno ends the chapter believing that “just in time” is not real English and that Kiichiro Toyoda invented the phrase to better express the Japanese concept the “chodo” on time.

Toyota history credits Kiichiro Toyoda with adding “just in time” to the development of the Toyota Production System in the 1930s. It was Taiichi Ohno, with the help of Shigeo Shingo, who made Just in Time into what it is today, built around the three elements of Takt Time, One Piece Flow and Downstream Pull. Kiichiro Toyoda had the vision, Taiichi Ohno built the framework and Shigeo Shingo worked out the details to make JIT a reality. We are ever grateful.

As a matter of interest Jules Styne wrote a song called “Just in Time” for the musical Bells Are Ringing in 1956. That’s the same year in which Taiichi Ohno visited the U.S. on his study mission. It’s probably safe to say Ohno’s trip to the U.S. didn’t include a visit to the Broadway show.


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