The Weekly Quill — Just in Case Inventory 101

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“The more inventory a company has, the less likely they will have what they need.” 

Taiichi Ohno
“Lost in translation” is more than an idiom describing verbiage that loses its subtlety, its richness, its full meaning when robbed of these essentials by the blunt methodology of translation. Consider how flummoxed millions of Westerners were when they first read the following observation made by the godfather of Just in Time (JIT) Inventory Management, Taiichi Ohno: “Having no problems the biggest problem of all.” The postwar operations guru who created the Toyota Production System was indeed a philosopher grounded in Kaizen, which deftly translates to continuous improvement. In his mind, spoken through his words, “People don’t go to Toyota to ‘work,’ they go there to ‘think.’ Casting a harsh eye on the monotony of repetition, Ohno also said, “The only place that work and motion are the same thing is the zoo where people pay to see the animals move around.”

Is it any wonder that in a corporate culture filled with leaders, whose biggest challenges in life were taxes and death, who were duty bound to crack the whip to get the most out of their worker bees, were at a loss when JIT made its way to America in the 1970s and 1980s? In a million years, they’d have never thought to pay line workers to stop and think. And a lack of motion defined failure as productivity was then envisioned.

Two years ago, I might have started this next sentence with “Luckily.” Today, there’s less certainty that James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos’ 1990 operations bible “The Machine That Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production — Toyota’s Secret Weapon in the Global Car Wars That Is Revolutionizing World Industry” saved U.S. manufacturing. It’s not that Ohno’s work was not relevant and worthy of translating into thinking that Westerners could exploit to their benefit. The authors’ introduction of the simplest term “lean production” has already soothed your mind. What’s not to like about lean? Who likes flabby?

In their words: “Our conclusion is simple: Lean production is a superior way for humans to make things. It provides better products in wider variety at lower cost. Equally important, it provides more challenging and fulfilling work for employees at every level, from the factory to headquarters. It follows that the whole world should adopt lean production, and as quickly as possible.”

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