About Obeyas ("Big Rooms")

"Obeya" (大部屋) is Japanese for "Big room." The term has been getting attention lately in the Lean community as a solution for service operations or project teams and is even conflated by some with production teams' daily meetings on the shop floor, which don't take place in a room other than the production shop itself.

On the other hand, the idea of bringing together in one room all the stakeholders in an issue, problem, or project to communicate face to face, find solutions and make decisions is not exactly new. It's called a meeting, and those who wish to sound "Lean" without changing anything can call their meeting rooms "obeya." Those who wish to dig deeper, however, find a more specific -- and useful -- concept, if not a panacea.

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About Strategy, Tactics, and Lean

Carl von Clausewitz, writer on military strategy and tactics

Carl von Clausewitz, writer on military strategy and tactics

Originally "the art of the general," strategy is about which armies or fleets you deploy where and for what purpose. It goes hand in hand with tactics, which is the way each unit then engages the enemy. Always fond of military metaphors, business people have chosen to use  the term"strategy"  for their plans and decisions on products or services, markets, promotion methods, technology, organization, and financing. To Harvard Business School's Michael Porter "the essence of [business] strategy is choosing what not to do."

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"Wisdom" and "Continuous Improvement" in the Toyota Way

Toyota's Japanese documents and their English versions often mean different things. Recently, looking at the Japanese version of The Toyota Way 2001, I was surprised to find that what is translated into English as "Continuous Improvement" is "Chie to Kaizen" (知恵と改善), which means "Wisdom and Continuous Improvement." In the English version, "Wisdom" was not only dropped from the main header, it appears nowhere. Continue reading

What's Wrong With the Rote Application of Lean Tools?

There is more to playing the piano than practicing scales, but you can't get there unless you do practice scales. Likewise, there is more to Lean than tools, but you need the tools. They are not sufficient, but they are necessary. Unless you learn them, you are depriving yourself of the benefits of clever tricks, methods, and analytical tools developed over 65 years. Each one doesn't necessarily take long to learn, but would to reinvent, and you don't have that time.

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Jidoka isn't just about "stop and fix"

Jidoka (自働化)  isn't just "stop and fix" or "stop and call."  It is a complete approach to automation that includes building in the ability of a machine to stop when it malfunctions but also includes many other things. Sakichi Toyoda's Type-G loom didn't just stop when the yarn broke, it also had automatic shuttle change, which reduced the need for human intervention in its normal operations, and was a breakthrough that had eluded everybody else.

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Is Cost Reduction the Goal of TPS?

In a rebuttal to John Seddon's latest paper, An Exploration into the Failure of Lean,  Bob Emiliani asserts that the original purpose of TPS was to reduce cost. He quotes both Taiichi Ohno and Yasuhiro Monden saying so, and chides Seddon for not reading their works carefully enough. In the context of these documents, however, I think the quotes are misleading. Neither Ohno's and Monden's books, nor any other Japanese publication about manufacturing systems that I have seen, contain a discussion of what costs actually are.

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Theories of Lean and Leveling/Heijunka| Christoph Roser

ChristophRoser-200x300Christoph Roser has more impressive credentials than most Lean consultants, from a PhD in Engineering to a research job at Toyota labs, stints in operations at Bosch, and a professorship at Karslruhe University of Applied Sciences. So, if anyone is qualified to write a theory of Lean, he is, and he is trying his hand at it in production planning and scheduling.

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“Going to the Gemba” and “Going to the Customer” | Philip Marris

In the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn, Philip Marris started a discussion on this topic three weeks ago with the following statement:

"I believe that going to the customer is nearly as important as going to the Gemba.

I won’t comment on “Going to the Gemba” in this LinkedIn discussion group because normally we are all already totally convinced that it is vital and I would bet that most of us enjoy nothing more than those moments on the shop floor seeing, smelling, listening, touching, thinking, learning and coaching.

What I wanted to do with this post is: ask if there is a Japanese (or even better a Toyota Motor Company) term for “Going to the customer” and ask members what their experience is on this subject. I think it is both different and similar to “Gemba walks” and very important.

Personally, after over 25 years in industry in many countries and cultures, I am continually disappointed by the "go to the customer" practices. Some small to medium sized firms are good at it but large organizations seem to lose it. This is especially true of B2B (Business To Business) operations but also in B2C (Business to Customer or Consumer goods manufacturers) where even the best tend to completely delegate this crucial element to the Sales and Marketing people.

I think going to the customer is important for all employees: workers on the shop floor, those that purchase the packaging, those that print the bill, those that take the customer orders, the top management ... I would add that for some B2B companies they should of course go further down the Supply Chain and get to the final customer (the one that uses the product). "

There have been 28 comments so far, many of them theoretical, about the value of customer feedback, or off-topic, about the foibles of MBAs, with a few accounts of personal experience. I picked out the following:

  • Todd McCann: "While working with Boeing of Winnepeg (composite parts Mfg) we led a 3Gen road trip to Everett and Renton WA where the Winn gemba workers learned more in 1 hour how the customer viewed their parts and the Par traveling paper work that accompanied the part, than they wanted.  Eye opening to say the least. I recall, Heads kept moving back and forth side to side, eyes closed and open palms slapped the forehead."
  • José Ignacio Erausquin Arruabarrena. About 20 year ago, when I was managing a plant being Tier 1 supplier of the automotive sector, I remember as one of the practices that was really appreciated by the workforce, the one to have always one or two operators of the assembly line in the visits to the customer, when developing new products or even when answering to customer claims. Operators observing how their customer utilizes their product is one of the best sources of improvement that you can imagine.

My own experience is consistent with Todd's and José Ignacio's. When I was consulting for Boeing Portland, a machine shop making structural components, one of their best practices was sending a small group to the assembly plant that used their products once a quarter, to meet with the assemblers and collect their feedback. They recorded the interaction on video, and played it back to the entire production team back home. Different people went every quarter, and I went along on one of of these visits.

It is relatively easy to organize such things for an in-house supplier, to a plant that is not too far away. It is more complicated when you are dealing with actual customers, especially when the customers are not end-users but dealers or distributors. If you are selling to dealers, you can, for example, place technicians for a few months at dealerships when you launch a new product, to gain first-hand knowledge of any problems end-user may report to the dealership about the product.

When GM created the dealership system to sell cars in the 1920s, the primary purpose was to shield the production plants from the fluctuations in the market. Dealer inventories acted as a buffer to allow production plants to proceed at a constant pace. As they quickly discovered, however, this system also shielded GM from information about market trends, and they didn't realize the market had a downturn until the lots of their dealers were all full.

To keep a finger on the pulse of the market, Toyota in its early days sold cars door-to-door. Chatting with housewives, the sales rep learned that Mr. Yamada had been promoted, and paid him a visit in the evening to sell him a car to fit his new position. While it provided better market intelligence than dealerships, it was too expensive an approach and was abandoned.

Much later, about 2000, Toyota launched an internet portal in Japanese called gazoo.com, dedicated to "car life," with information like used car values, games for kids during long rides, recommendations for pleasant road trips, etc. It is different from the brochureware websites of other car makers. They didn't explain why they did this, but my guess is that it was to recover the direct contact with customers that door-to-door sales used to provide. Through their clicks, page views, and comments, gazoo visitors are telling Toyota about the market.

Another approach is to bring customers to the production plant. Until Honda of America closed their Marysville motorcycle plant in 2009, they held a yearly "homecoming" for bikers. All owners were invited to a big party, with a tour of the plant and meetings with the production teams. The idea was also adopted by Saturn, but every four years, and they stopped in 2004.

In a similar spirit, Porsche in Leipzig lets buyers pick up their Panameras and Cayennes at the assembly plant. The customers tour the spotless final assembly line, get an hour of coaching with a pro on the test track, eat at the fine-dining restaurant in the visitor center, and buy expensive souvenirs. And, for this privilege, they pay an extra 1,250 euros.

Human Resources at Toyota

With Respect for Humanity, bowdlerized as "Respect for People," made into a pillar of The Toyota Way, you might expect Toyota's Human Resources (HR) policies to be studied, scrutinized, discusses extensively in the Lean literature, and argued over in numerous forums. But it's not the case.

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Toyota's car factory of the future | Autocar Professional

"Toyota says it has has completely re-thought the way its future car factories will operate. Its plans for the new-generation factories – nicknamed ‘simple and slim’ – are well advanced. Toyota claims they will be 25 percent smaller than existing plants, require 40% less investment and emit up to 55% less CO2. Toyota also plans to re-engineer the production lines so they can be shortened or lengthened in less than 80 minutes. It’s claimed that a standard line can be shrunk from a 100,000 car-per-year capacity to just 50,000 cars, or vice versa. This would allow capacity to be easily reduced or increased depending on demand"

Source: www.autocarpro.in

Michel Baudin's comments:

Thanks to Rob van Stekelenborg, a.k.a. Dumontis, for this scoop, which, again provides more specifics on Toyota's plans, including surface-mounted conveyors, smaller paint shops, laser screw welding, what sounds like induction heating of sheet metal for stamping, and a variety of energy saving techniques.

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