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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.

Date: 2012-03-16 09:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
How well does the book cover some of the pitfalls of lean manufacturing?

My dad was managing a manufacturing-type job when just-in-time flow and low-inventory were the latest buzz in the US. It's a good concept for reducing storage costs and such, but hit a major snag in cultural expectations. Suppliers thought they lost face by admitting they couldn't keep up the supply in time. Instead of getting forewarning that a supply would run low, the shortage would hit suddenly with no warning. The resulting stoppage in production added their own costs.

Not that this should affect your plans to simplify your home office. Clearing away stuff you haven't used in a while is very different from the issues when a product can't be completed because a component is in short supply.

Date: 2012-03-16 10:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Plus just in time has the pit fall of selling in big batches. You could get no orders of "Toyotas" and then someone orders 10k ETA 2 weeks.

Date: 2012-03-16 10:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, you can only make your input inventory as lean as your suppliers are able to supply consistently, and your output inventory as lean as your customers demand is consistent. But, there are often lots of internal steps with internal suppliers and clients and that can be made all lean. Also, there's a strong repeated theme of building a relationship with external suppliers and customers to get them to level the load and be more consistent in their supplying and demanding whenever possible.

Date: 2012-03-17 02:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"Lean" manufacturing isn't just synonymous with the Toyota way, Toyota invented it and as far as I can tell is still the best practitioner of it in the manufacturing space.

My entire job for the last 4 years has been to try to move my development organization (read: coding) to as lean a process as possible, though all the books I've read to get there have been software focused. The main thing to remember is that Lean isn't a process or practice, it is a set of principles that you must apply to your organization in whatever processes make sense; it is a way of learning from your organization what needs improving and then finding the right ways to improve it. It's a pain. :-)


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