Grand Daddy of Quality - Taiichi Ohno - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Who is the The Grand Poobah of Toyota Production System? The Wizard of Lean? His Royal Eminence of Efficiency? Sure, he had some help, but Taiichi Ohno was the behind-the-scenes master of what is now known as Lean Manufacturing. Time to appreciate a significant quality forbear!

This year would have marked Taiichi Ohno’s 105th birthday – truly a Great Grand-Daddy of Quality. Born in Japan, Mr. Ohno was an engineer and a businessman known primarily for being the Father of the Toyota Production System. Taiichi Ohno along with Sakichi Toyoda (Jidoka, 5 Whys) and Kiichiro Toyoda (Just-In-Time) is responsible for the development of most of the tools and concepts that, together, make up the Toyota Production System (TPS).

Claims to Fame – What Did He Invent?

The Toyota Production System:

His Toyota Production System became Lean Manufacturing

Taiichi Ohno wasn’t the only person credited with developing the TPS but he was responsible for turning it into an integrated framework. Thanks to him, Toyota was leaps and bounds ahead of their competitors during the oil crisis of the 70s. Mr. Ohno visited Ford factories in the US to better understand the conveyorized assembly line but he was most keenly impressed with American supermarkets.

He applied the concept of self-service back at the plant, still calling it “Supermarket,” so they would only produce and replace the parts needed at the next step in the process. To make it even easier to follow this self-service model he added visual signals or Kanbans, so it was obvious when it was time to replenish stock. This switch from a “Push” system to a “Pull” system allowed them to order supplies Just-In-Time – drastically lowering inventory costs. Due to these concepts, and many others, the framework of the TPS became popular across all industries and grew into what is known as Lean Manufacturing.

The 7 Wastes:

His 7 Wastes helped uncover non-value adding steps

The 7 Wastes, which have since expanded into the 8 Wastes, address the issue of applying resources to areas of the process that don’t add value in the eyes of the customer. By creating this list, Taichi Ohno helped others identify steps and efforts that were simply adding to the cost of doing business.

The modern listing of his original 7 Wastes:

  • Defects: Efforts caused by rework, scrap and incorrect information
  • Overproduction: Production that is more than is needed or before it is needed
  • Waiting: Wasted time waiting for the next step in a process
  • Non-Utilized Talent: Underutilizing people’s knowledge, skills and talent (8th Waste added)
  • Transportation: Unnecessary movements of information, products and materials
  • Inventory: Excess information, products and materials not being processed
  • Motion: Unnecessary movement by people (e.g. walking)
  • Extra-Processing: Any steps that don’t add value in the eyes of the customer

Having this checklist allows us to see our processes with new eyes. Removing waste from a process reduces cost and improves the Flow – one of the basic tenets of Lean.

Little Known Facts:

  1. He first worked in textiles at Toyoda Automatic Loom Works
  2. He met resistance when he pushed for lower inventory levels at Toyota

Ohno at the Bahama Bistro:

Quote of the Day:

“OhNo’ he didn’t!”

Putting Ohno into Action:

  • “We run a Bahamian Toyota Production System in our kitchen.”
  • “That means Just-In-Time fish inventory – the freshest!”

Taiichi Ohno stood on the shoulders of the quality greats that came before him but he raised the bar as few have done since. His persistence in things like getting leadership to stop stockpiling huge quantities of components enabled Toyota to go from well below American car industry productivity to leaving it the dust. That is until the US started applying the concepts of Toyota Production System! Taiichi Ohno provides a lesson in perseverance – never stop asking “why!”

Happy Birthday Taiichi Ohno!

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.