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Taiichi Ohnos Workplace Management
Special 100th Birthday Edition
By Taiichi Ohno
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2013 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The Wise Mend Their Ways
I have been asked to talk about the theme of "management of the gemba," and since I am not confident that I will be able to do this systematically, I will talk about related matters as they occur to me.
I don't think that the gemba changes easily. If the gemba changed easily, this would be very easy, but the gemba is not such a place. It is important for people to understand and agree, and it is important for us to persuade them.
In order to explain and gain the agreement of many people, you need to have some basis for your arguments. When I give talks I am often asked about how to develop one's powers of persuasion. But if you are in a position to give instructions or give orders, you cannot do this unless you have a lot of confidence about what you are saying.
However, people's ideas are unreliable things, and I would be impressed if we were right even half of the time.
There is a proverb: "Even a thief is right three times out of ten."
If it's true that even a thief will say three right things, then I think we should expect that a normal person is right half of the time but wrong the other half of the time.
When I was a middle school student in the old system, we studied the Chinese classics, and during this class we learned from the Analects of Confucius. In these writings Confucius says, "The wise will mend their ways" and "The wise man should not hesitate to correct themselves." I think the term "wise man" must refer to a remarkable person, and I am sure that more than half of what such a person said was right, but even then they probably were wrong 30 percent or 40 percent of the time.
I think these words in the Analects mean that even the wise man is not right ten out of ten times, and when you know you are wrong you should mend your ways and not hesitate to correct yourself.
A thief may say good things three times out of ten; a regular person may get five things right and five things wrong. Even a wise man probably is right seven times out of ten, but must be wrong three times out of ten, so if you are wrong don't hesitate to correct yourself.
Confucius is saying that we should change gracefully, like a leopard. I think his words mean that in the end it is not good if you hold on to your ideas too strongly and try stubbornly to justify them.
There is another saying: "The morning's orders are revised in the afternoon." If my memory is correct, we were taught that it is a bad thing to give orders or instructions in the morning and then change them in the afternoon, but I think that as long as "the wise mend their ways" and "the wise man should not hesitate to correct himself," then we must understand this to mean that we should, in fact, revise the morning's orders in the afternoon.
However, this does not mean that you give ambiguous orders or instructions you are not confident about in the morning and then change these orders without even going to see the results. If you are giving orders, or if you have given an order, and you see by the result that you were wrong, or that circumstances have changed, making your orders bad, you should not wait until the afternoon to change these orders. Why not revise the morning's orders in the morning? What is necessary is the attitude that if the morning's orders were bad they should be changed by noon at the latest. From this point of view there are countries that pass regulations and laws and do not change them.
I encounter these from time to time and think, "I can't believe such laws still exist."
There may be many countries that believe that it is bad if "the morning's orders are revised in the afternoon" and leave the same laws on the books for many years, and I am sure this is true even locally. This does not mean that companies should also stick stubbornly to old ways and blindly follow established authority.
Engineers, in particular, tend to hold on tightly to things they have said or to their ideas. Engineers are often said to be inflexible or stubborn, but I think it is important for them to quickly correct themselves, just as the wise mend their ways. If you think, "What I said was mistaken," you should clearly say, "I was wrong." Without this sort of attitude your subordinates and the people on the gemba will not do things for you. If you realize that people will make mistakes and have a frank attitude to the point of thinking it is normal to apologize and say that you were wrong even to your subordinates, this will have an effect on how persuasive you can be.
If you fear the other person, or if you do not understand why, and you just keep going ahead, knowing you are wrong but doing nothing about it, you will not know what is really wrong. This has a negative influence over time. It becomes awkward to change the order you gave and so you leave it alone. As a result, people stop following you.
We are all human and we are wrong half of the time. You may give the wrong orders to your subordinates. Since we are all human, half of what your subordinates have to say may be right. Unless managers first take this attitude, people will turn away from us.
So in the end, having a sense of humility is one of the conditions for developing strong powers of persuasion.
If You Are Wrong, Admit It
This raises the question of why we are wrong half of the time. This may be because even when we say something with a lot of confidence, many times our fundamental way of thinking is wrong.
In Japan, we have a word, sakkaku, which is very appropriate. I think the optical illusion, or the misconception of what we can see, is easy to understand. For example, in the following diagram, if the two lines of equal length are made into a "T" everyone sees that the horizontal line looks shorter than the vertical line. This is a common method for making a most basic explanation of misconceptions. You can make mistakes when you think "this one is longer" because it looks longer.
However, we cannot help the fact that it looks longer to us. In these situations we have to take apart the "T" shape and arrange the two lines next to each other, and we will see that they are the same length. So, even though one line looks longer, in fact it is not longer.
The misconception of an optical illusion is very easy to explain, and people are easily persuaded.
The question then becomes, "How long should it look for the lines to be the same length?" or "How long should it look for the line to be longer?" This is not something that we can judge by sight alone, and again we need to arrange the two lines next to each other for comparison.
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. While it is easy to persuade people by trying out the optical illusion, it is difficult to prove that the ideas in your mind and the thoughts in your brain are, in fact, misconceptions. In many cases when a person has an idea or makes a statement that they believe is correct, they find that it was a misconception. When you try your ideas the results can be contrary to your expectations.
As long as humans have their misconceptions, we are lucky if we give ten orders and half of them are correct. I think Confucius was able to say, "The wise should not hesitate to correct themselves" because he knew that we make mistakes half of the time.
People who hold the misconception in their head that one line is longer will not easily understand if you tell them the two lines are the same length. They just have to try it. Once they try it and verify the results with their own eyes, they will realize that the orders that they gave, believing they were right, were in fact wrong. They will also make the workers try many different things to help them understand misconceptions on their own.
When making people try things, it is important for the person who gave the instruction to go see the results with their own eyes. When verifying with your own eyes, if you see that it was not a misconception but was in fact true, and you can say, "I was wrong," on the spot, people will think, "He is my boss but he apologized to me when he was wrong."
As a result when you have another idea and you instruct them to try it out they will do so willingly.
If you are wrong and you show by your facial expression, "Well, I'll be danged," this will become a form of encouragement to them. As they try ten different things and they see that five of things you ask them to do are correct, I think they will become very cooperative.
On the other hand, if you insist stubbornly that the boss's orders should be followed, whether they are good orders or bad orders, people will stop following you. On the question of persuasion, when both the person giving the orders and the person being ordered recognize that as humans we are only right half of the time, we can say, "What did I tell you?" to the other when they wrong, and just this feeling of openness makes the person you are trying to persuade feel better. As a result, they will become more willing to cooperate. I think this is the true power of persuasion.
If people did not have misconceptions, there would be no need for persuasion. Because we fall into misconceptions due to ideas in our heads, persuasion can be difficult. Perhaps the more that a person is an intellectual the more they are prone to misconceptions.
Misconceptions Reduce Efficiency
On the gemba, as I just mentioned, it is important to just try it. For instance, I am sure this is something you find everywhere, but people think that doing one type of work all at once is faster. When I tell people, "Do one piece at a time," they say that this will lower efficiency. They think that efficiency is improved—in other words, that productivity is improved—by producing the same thing over and over.
I was observing a young woman performing an inspection process, and she was arranging many parts in a row and checking them. No matter how much I told her that instead of doing it her way it was much easier and much more efficient to inspect and put them in a box one at a time she would say, "No, this way is faster."
In these situations, I say, "All right, that's okay, but try it my way one at a time." When people try it, they find it is too boring. They think maybe they will not be able to make their numbers this way. However, after they try this for a whole day, they find that what used to require overtime to complete 5,000 pieces can now be done one at a time every 20 seconds, in regular hours. It seems they cannot believe that they can get more done with such a slow pace of work.
When they work on many pieces at once, taking 20 or 30 pieces in one hand and arranging them neatly in rows, they have the misconception that they can get more work done. Again, we make them try working on one piece at a time. They may think, "This is not real work; this is play." As a result of working like it was play and finishing work in regular hours, the worker does not work overtime and their income is reduced. If their argument is that doing many at once is better because of their finances, I can't argue with that.... When working one piece at a time you can work at a leisurely pace that does not make you tired and you can make the same volume without overtime. They understand this when they try it. All of this is relatively simple. However, the reality is that this simple thing is not actually done on the gemba.
This is an old story from the Toyota Motor Company, right after World War II. At the process for drilling holes in round bar stock, the worker wanted to only drill holes. The daily requirement was 80 pieces, so the young worker was drilling the holes by manual feed. "Why is he operating the machine by manual feed?" I wondered.
The worker explained that on automatic feed the machine would keep going even after the cutting tool became dull and did not cut so well, and this caused the cutting tool to break or the dimension of the hole to be wrong. By operating the machine on manual feed the worker could tell how the tool was cutting. "So this way is faster," he said.
When I asked, "How long does it take to make the hole?" he replied "Thirty seconds." "So," I said, "if you can make a hole in 30 seconds, you can make two holes in one minute." The worker had nothing to say to this. The reason is that this job was done over seven hours of working time. The worker was proudly saying that he made 80 parts in seven hours. He was saying that he was operating the machine by hand and doing his best to make 80 parts in a day, as required.
Since there are 60 minutes in one hour, next I said, "You can make 120 holes in one hour." He did not reply because while he was proud of making 80 parts in a day, if it was possible to make 120 parts in one hour, this was troubling news to him. This is why he did not respond when I said, "You can make 120 holes in one hour." The message was, "Why do you only make 80 parts in seven hours? If you need 80 parts it should take you 40 minutes. This means you are only working 40 minutes in one day."
"I'm working diligently and doing what is needed. Why do you complain?" he asked me.
I said to him, "Son, you may be diligently working up a sweat but you are only making 80 parts in seven hours. If you are going to come to work, give us at least one hour of work per day."
"Give me a break," he said.
When you think about this, it may seem that making holes at the fastest speed you can by hand is the faster way. Making a hole using automatic feed takes 40 seconds. Making a hole by manual feed takes 30 seconds. So it seems that manual feed is more efficient. But after making three holes in a row, one after another, with the manual method, the tip of the drill gets hot, and this makes it dull. This causes it to cut not as well. The worker takes the cutting tool over to the grinder to sharpen the cutting tool, and then back to make three more holes. The cutting tool gets hot again after two or three holes, and the worker has to go back to the grinder to sharpen the tool. He thinks he is working.
He thinks that if he works diligently he can make one hole in 30 seconds. He has the misconception that doing the same task over and over again raises efficiency.
However, if you use the automatic feed and you only need 80 parts per day, you only need to make one hole every five or ten minutes.
The appropriate cutting speed is 40 seconds per hole. You can make a hole in 40 seconds and then let the cutting tool cool for four minutes and 20 seconds so that the cutting tool will return to room temperature when it is needed again to make the next part. You can also apply cutting fluid to the tool to lower the temperature to that of the coolant, and then you can use the same cutting tool to make 30 to 50 holes before needing to sharpen it again.
Each worker did not have their own whetstone. Five or six people lined up before the whetstone waiting to use it. Everyone was working in the same way. For example, the lathe was used to cut parts as fast as the cutting tool would allow. This dulled the cutting tool, and the lathe operators lined up to sharpen their tools. There were always five or six people in queue before the whetstone. So even if they could sharpen a tool in 30 seconds, if they were at the end of the queue of five or six people and each sharpened their tools, it took ten minutes before they got back to their machine. If a worker found that he did not sharpen the tool well and had to go back again, he might only make two parts in ten minutes.
The old drill presses had a small table, so if a worker tried to make many parts at once he would need to take 10 or 15 pieces of material out of the box to put them on the table of the drill press.
Then he moved 10 or 20 finished parts to the side and into a basket.
Again, he took 10 or 20 pieces from one basket and lined them up on the table. The person doing all of this thought he was working. As a result he could only make three or four pieces every ten minutes, and yet he thought that he was doing a good job because he could make a hole every 30 seconds, while it took 40 seconds on automatic feed. "And I am sharpening my own tools," he thought.
If a worker only needed one part every five minutes they could have let the cutting tool cool down for four minutes and only have gone to sharpen tools once per day, and yet they went to sharpen tools every three parts. Although they thought that they were skilled workers efficiently working up a sweat, in fact, this was a very inefficient way of working.
Excerpted from Taiichi Ohnos Workplace Management by Taiichi Ohno. Copyright © 2013 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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