Mar. 16th, 2012

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In about a week I'm going to start a new job and it will be the first time I've worked for a company that was about making things and selling them. I've always been doing pure tech where the software itself or the service it provides is the business and I'm making it directly. I mentioned this to one of my future coworkers and he recommended to me the book "The Toyota Way". Okay, I'll take that as a book about manufacturing I should read before going into that.

The book is written by an obvious Toyota fanboy. If you removed the word 'Toyota' from the book throughout it would set off my faddish-thinking and cultish-thinking bullshit detectors a little less, but on the other hand it's reassuring that all of these stories are backed by actual functioning companies that make billions of dollars of real successful stuff. You could very nearly call the book 'Wholistic Manufacturing: Putting Human Values into Making Things'. This isn't actually that book, but maybe in five or ten years someone will write that book. Bonus points if it includes the "Cradle to Cradle" book team.

None of the book is about nuts and bolts and assembly lines and welding. It's really about people and management and philosophy and how to build a group of people and organize them such that they can effectively execute manufacturing. Having had some suboptimal experiences with management in the last few years, it's fascinating to read about a (perhaps utopically optimistic in some points) description of what a good management process can be. It occurs to me that since I never got a class in it and haven't quite picked it up organically, maybe I ought to read some more books on how management and workplace teamwork are supposed to work. "The Toyota Way" has a lot of good sounding points on philosophy and practices and work distribution and rewards and communication; but it admits that it's no recipe for instant success and there's still lots of personal hard work to be done implementing and learning and understanding how to actually make the system happen. (But really! You can make your workplace better by organizing it this way!)

A practice somewhat synonymous with the Toyota way is 'lean' manufacturing, with smaller inventories and smaller lead times and just-in-time flow and some characteristic signaling systems. The low-inventory efficiency focus of it reminds me of some of the personal minimalist/simplification philosophies I've heard lately. It may also be prompting me to actually clean up my home office space.

The part I'm most skeptical about is about the interplay of standardization and innovation, and I think that deserves a post all to itself.

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