View from Marris Consulting office

A Conversation With Philip Marris about Working with Machines

Philip Marris and I got to know each other on line, by participating in the same discussion groups, and met in person last year. The following conversation was recorded a month ago, in the Marris Consulting office in Paris:

marris1WorkingwithMachinesPhilip Marris: Hi, Michel, welcome to Paris! I am glad to take this opportunity to ask you about one of your books that I love, called Working with Machines. As far as I know it is one of the rare books on that subject, at least in terms of treating it in as much detail as you do, and it is about a subject very close to my heart, which is the relationship between the worker and the machine. Can you tell me what made you want to write the book and what the main messages are?

MB1Michel Baudin: Well, what made me write it is that putting together systems of people and machines is central to manufacturing, and one of the things I learned from Kei Abe early in my career in consulting. There are a number of techniques like the work-combination chart, which is a typical tool of this area, and there is not very much written about it in English. You have books about automation, but the American books about automation say nothing about people. It's like people are an afterthought. You get books about FMSs, and you see diagrams of machines, but you never see information about what people are supposed to be doing.

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Cars Per Employee And Productivity At Volkswagen Versus Toyota

Seen this morning in a Lean consultant's blog:

"Two decades later, VW has topped Toyota as the world’s number one automaker, but Toyota generally is considered to be [...] far more productive. In 2015, VW employs 600,000 people to produce 10 million cars while Toyota employs 340,000 to produce just under 9 million cars..."

Is it really that simple? VW produces 10 million/600,000 = 16.67 cars/employee/year, and Toyota 9 million/340,000 = 26.47 cars/employee/year. Ergo, Toyota is 60% more productive than VW -- that is, if you accept cars/employee/year as an appropriate metric of productivity.  Unfortunately, it is a bad metric that can easily be gamed by outsourcing.

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Principles About Principles

Abstracting underlying principles from practices is essential when you are trying to learn from the way an organization works, for the purpose of helping other organizations, engaged in different activities in different contexts. Unless you can do it, you are reduced to just copying practices without understanding what problems they were intended to address.

Unfortunately, articulating a set of principles is hard because they must be (1) understood, (2) actionable, and (3) memorable. Here are a few meta-principles on how to achieve these goals:

  1. Banish words like "thoroughly," "rigorous," "towering," "powerful", or "fully." If the meaning is in the eye of the beholder, it doesn't belong in a statement of principle.
  2. Express principles as an action verb followed by a single object. "Develop," "create," "cancel," or "hire" are all appropriate action verbs in a statement of principle. If you have multiple objects, you need a statement of principle for each.
  3. Keep the number of principles down to a maximum of five. Otherwise, they won't be remembered. Most Jews can't recite the 613 commandments in the Torah; most Christians, their 1o commandments; most Americans, their bill of rights. If you want principles to be remembered, make a shorter list.

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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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