Re-Translating Lean from Its Origin | Jun Nakamuro | LinkedIn

“The world first became aware of TPS (The Toyota Production System) when Taiichi Ohno published a book about his groundbreaking efforts at Toyota. It was published in Japan in 1978. The Japanese version of his book wasn’t translated into English until 1988. Since ten years had passed, this translation did not fully communicate the nuances of Ohno’s vision. ”

Sourced from LinkedIn

Michel Baudin‘s comments: I have also argued for recovering the nuances of TPS that have been lost in translation, whether these losses are due to incompetence or obfuscation, in the following posts:

In his article, Nakamuro bemoans the “decades of confusion” caused by our collective failure to translate Taiichi Ohno’s thoughts accurately. According to him, Ohno frequently called different ideas or methods by names that sound identical but are written differently, which strikes me as a poor communication strategy, if your goal actually is to make yourself understood.

Japanese is a phonetically poor language that borrowed nearly half its vocabulary from phonetically rich Chinese, along with China’s ideographic script  (Kanji) to resolve the ambiguities. One example I heard in Japan is that, if you want to say: “The journalist from your company rode the train home,” it can come out as “Kisha no kisha wa kisha de kisha shita.” It’s unintelligible orally, but clear in writing, because the four words pronounced “kisha” are all different when written down: 貴社, 記者, 汽車, 帰社.

Puns are fun, and often used in Japanese comedy. In professional communication, on the other hand, it’s not a great idea. Rather than assigning different meanings to “muda” written in two different scripts, use different words.

Nakamuro points out two different words, both pronounced “hyōjunsagyo,” meaning current state assessment when written 表準作業 and standard work when written 標準作業, and there is ambiguity in the latter. With all due respect to Taiichi Ohno, this terminology is not subtle or deep but confusing. I prefer distinctive, self-explanatory terms like:

  • Current state assessment for current state assessments
  • Work Instructions for the A3s you use to ensure that the same task is done the same way every time.
  • Work combination charts for the design of operator jobs involving loops through multiple tasks at different workstations.