Taiichi Ohno

Remove Waste, Uncover Individual Human Beings

By Jon Miller Updated on June 30th, 2019

Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management was originally published in 1982, following his first book, Toyota Production System which came out in 1978. In the preface to the 1987 English language version of Workplace Management, Taiichi Ohno wrote the following. It gives valuable insight into what he was thinking at the time about the development of the Toyota Production System:

The starting concept of the Toyota production system was, as I have emphasized several times, a thorough elimination of waste. In fact, the closer we came to this goal, the clearer became the picture of individual human beings with distinct personalities.

This comment speaks to the theme of the Toyota Production System text (“Beyond Large-Scale Production”) and the increasing trend to mass customization in the automotive industry in 1980s Japan, the need to deliver “products that differ according to individual requirements.” The ultimate destination in the pursuit of just-in-time is the to deliver what each person wants, when they want it, in the quantity they want. “There is no real substance to the abstract mass” that is called ‘the public’, says Ohno.

On the other hand, what concerned Taiichi Ohno in the text of Workplace Management was less about the mechanics of the Toyota Production System and more about how managers, supervisors, engineers, production floor and administrative staff viewed the continuous improvement of their work. After decades of pursuing kaizen and a customer-centric production system at Toyota, Ohno must have realized that with regards to the important principle of respect for people, we can say the same thing:

“…the closer we came to this goal, the clearer became the picture of individual human beings with distinct personalities.”

We observe a value stream and remove the barriers to flow in order to maximize value to the customer, while minimizing inputs. Likewise we need to look across our organization, remove barriers to communication and strengthen our values. In this way we realize that when it comes to respect for people, there is no real substance to the abstract mass that is called “people”, only individuals with different requirements, motivations and ambitions.

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