On my most recent plane trip, I got a chance to read Taiichi Ohnos Workplace Management: Special 100th Birthday Edition. It’s a book, translated and written down from a series of narratives and distilled into a small set of digestible chapters full of short stories. It has a pretty great representation of many of his ideas, and is a great read about the philosophy and attitude behind Toyota, and ultimately the movement classified as lean thinking/manufacturing, etc.
I found the book sometimes jarring, perhaps it’s just the conversational style and the translation that means it’s a bit halting. The constant references to manufacturing terminology also makes it slow to digest, but I find it fascinating to see how many of these ideas easily translate into the world of software as well. The book touches upon a little bit of thing when he goes on to analyse the difficulties of the “white collar workers” and how it’s much harder for them to “go to the gemba” to see the results.
Much of the advice is still appropriate today. Many take aways reinforce many of the ideas espoused by many of the lean movements such as tool makers should not be separated from the tool users, or they end up creating tools that are not useful. The idea that improvement cannot be mandated centrally, away from the “gemba” but must be done by the people “on the gemba”.
The book also starts off with his attitudes towards people being human, the the problems that we have with our own mental models or misconceptions that lead us to be wrong. Chapters like “The wise men mend their ways” and “If you are wrong, admit it” are good examples of how to cope with these human traits.
The book is a short read, and is full of nice little soundbites. Probably my favourite out of the book is:
“There are so many things in this world that we cannot know until we try something. Very often after we try we find that the results are completely the opposite of what we expected, and this is because having misconceptions is part of what it means to be human”, in the Chapter: “If you are wrong, admit it”