Category Archives: Improving Efficiency

Karol Adamiecki: Management Harmony

We tend to think of leading management theorists as coming from the United States. This seems especially so of Scientific Management. But when the privilege of naming things for the world’s largest audience goes to those who write in English, history creates a bias. And because that audience largely reads only one language, that bias gets amplified.

One of many losers from the Anglo-centric nature of management and business thinking was Karol Adamiecki. He was a Polish engineer, turned economist and management thinker, who can claim to have invented the Gantt Chart before Henry Gantt, PERT before the US Navy, the Theory of Constraints before Eliyahu Goldratt, and much of Scientific Management before FW Taylor.

Karol Adamiecki 1866-1933

Karol Adamiecki 1866-1933

Short Biography

Karol Adamiecki was born in southern Poland, in 1866. He studied engineering at the Institute of Technology in St Petersburg, graduating in 1891. He then returned to his home town, where he took charge of a steel mill. He stayed for nearly 30 years, during which time, he formed his ideas about management.

In 1919, he left the mill, and became a lecturer at the Warsaw Polytechnic, becoming a professor in 1922. There, he further codified and published his ideas. In 1925, he founded the Institute of Scientific Management in Warsaw, becoming its Director and remaining until his death in 1933.

Adamiecki’s  Law of Harmony in Management

While running the steel rolling mill, Karol Adamiecki developed sophisticated thinking around management that was, from our perspective, ahead of its time. The three principal components were:

  1. Harmony of Choice
    Management should select and supply production tools that are mutually compatible. He went on to argue that this should be especially so in terms of their output production speed. This anticipated the Theory of Constraints, and the ideas of Eliyahu Goldratt by 75 years or more.
  2. Harmony of Doing
    Sequencing and scheduling of activities need to be fully co-ordinated to optimise production efficiency. Here, he not only developed a tool that looks very similar to the Gantt Chart, well before Gantt published. His approach also anticipated the US Navy’s Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) and du Pont’s Critical Path Method (CPM) by over 50 years.
  3. Harmony of Spirit
    I imagine the Pharaohs’ overseers were constantly emphasising the importance of creating a good team. But this is another theme that feels very modern – perhaps even more so than the other two. Let’s not forget that Taylor’s view of Scientific Management was mechanistic and process-oriented. It took Mayo to bring humanism to the fore, and ideas of team working in management only started to dominate from the 1970s.

Adamiecki started to publish in 1898, several years before Taylor did so.

Harmony of Doing:
The Harmonograph or Harmonogram (or Harmonograf)

In 1896, Adamiecki solved the problem of sequencing and scheduling in production and published, in1903, his solution. He called it a Harmonograf. And it looks very much like what we now call a Gantt Chart. However, Henry Gantt did not publish until 1910. There is no evidence to suggest Gantt copied Adamiecki’s idea.

In constructing the Harmonograf, however, Adamiecki describes a process that is pretty similar to the PERT and CPM methods. He certainly is able to include critical path and float. These are two concepts Gantt did not consider at all.

As Adamiecki described his methods, he was able to optimise production schedules by sliding paper tabs and arranging paper strips. In a very real sense, he developed an analog scheduling computer.


Without a doubt, Adamiecki’s thinking was of its time, but way ahead of its rediscovery. He possibly failed to realise just how valuable it was. But more likely, he simply suffered from an Anglophone bias in scholarship and manufacturing. Publishing in Polish simply did not get him recognition far beyond the borders of his home country. Even now, it is only in the Karol Adamiecki University of Economics in Katowice, that his name is celebrated.

And I have to ask, could this happen again? Yes. I think it can, will and probably is happening now. Last week, we met Vlatka Hlupic. Arguably, her work is known despite her Croatian origin, because she lives and works in London. With the US and the UK increasingly looking to close their borders for differing but related reasons, the next Karol Adamiecki’s work could well lay undiscovered for just as long as that of the first.

Robert Owen: Fair Management

Robert Owen is often referred to as a social reformer. So what is he doing in a blog about management?

In fact, in his espousal of management over pure command and control, we can see in Owen the first shining of the light of humanistic management, that was not to become the norm in his home country of the UK for nearly two centuries.

Robert Owen

Short Biography

Robert Owen was born in 1771, in Newtown, in Wales. After working in several drapery businesses around England, in 1790, he became the joint owner of a textile factory in Manchester. Because he had little experience of manufacturing, he started off wth a rigorous regime of intense observation of how his employees worked. Through this, he said, ‘I maintained order and regularity throughout the establishment’. Could this be an early variant on ‘Management by Walking About’: Management by Observation?

Along with other investors, Owen bought a Mill in New Lanark in 1799. The realities of what was then regarded as enlightened mill ownership were that he inherited a workforce where 5 and 6 year olds were expected to work up to 15 hours a day. His first act was to stop taking children from the local poorhouse, to raise the minimum age of children he employed to 10, and to ban the use of corporal punishment.

This was the start of a series of reforms that led to Owen being labelled variously as a social reformer, a socialist, an educational reformer, and a utopian (by Marx and Engels!) But at this time, certainly, Owen justified all of his changes on purely economic grounds. He used profits to fund social improvements for his workers and found that productivity subsequently increased. Eventually, the New Lanark Mill showed a 50% Return on Investment (ROI).

Eventually, his reforms were to include taking no children into the mill, creating the first night school in the world, for his workers,  starting what became the basis of the British Co-operative movement, and founding the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1834 – sadly, it did not survive the year. He also tried in 1815 and failed to introduce new legislation to improve working conditions nationally.

It may shock us now that his aim of increasing the minimum working age to 10, reducing the maximum daily working hours to 10½, and requiring a minimum of half an hour a day of education for all children was seen as a serious risk to the wellbeing of business. Lesser legislation was passed in 1819 and we still hear the same arguments about potential legislation around worker’s rights today.

Consult other sources…

If you want to learn more about his social reforms, educational work, or attempts to create trades unions and co-operatives, there is plenty of good material. I would like to focus on the things Owen did in management, that were almost a century ahead of his time, to only really be formalised by the likes of Mary Parker Follett and George Eastman, and the later humanistic management leaders, like Elton Mayo and Douglas McGregor.

Five Visionary Approaches

Humanistic Management
Owen recognised that, in his rapidly mechanising industry, machines would never attain a greater importance than the people who worked them

Abandoning Command and Control
Owen preferred to manage his workers, rather than issue commands. And to help him, he started selecting his managers on merit and giving them training.

Okay, so he would never have used this modern buzzword, but he firmly believed in the value of giving his managers real autonomy.

Change Management
Not only did Owen understand the value of winning trust from his workers before trying to impose change; he actively sought out influential individuals among them to help build and disseminate his case: what we call ‘change champions’.

Performance Monitoring
Every day, supervisors would assess the work of their workers, and award a colour code (from poor, black to blue to yellow to white – best), which would be displayed on a wooden block (his ‘silent monitor’) for all to see. Peer pressure and pride are powerful motivators!



Lotte Bailyn: Life and Work

Work-Life Balance has been a buzz-phrase that I have been aware of since the mid-1990s. And we no longer (in the West) think of work as somehow ‘walled-off’ from the rest of life. But this wasn’t always so. At the forefront of charting the shifts in the relationship of working life and home life through the twentieth and into the twenty first century, has been Lotte Bailyn.

Lotte Bailyn

Very Short Biography

Lotte Lazersfeld was born in Vienna, in 1930, into a Jewish family. In 1937, as a young child, she travelled to the US with her father, to flee Nazi persecution. Her mother, Marie Jahoda, went to England. Lotte studied Maths at Swarthmore College and then entered Harvard in 1951, where she studied Social Psychology, earning an MA and PhD. She married historian Bernard Bailyn.

She spent many years struggling to gain a full time academic post before being appointed, in 1972, to the faculty of the MIT Sloan School of Management. Between 1997 and 1999, she chaired the faculty T Wilson (1953) Professor of Management, Emerita.

Bailyn’s Research

Bailyn’s research interest is the intersection of work and home lives. This necessarily involves her in the issue of gender at work, because of the disproportionate role that women play in care-giving. She is therefore interested in the impact this has on women’s careers.

Her first book, however, focused on the way male engineers who put more time into their families and communities were under-valued by their companies, despite enhanced people and relationship skills. Living with Technology: Issues at Mid-career was published in 1980.

But her more important book, Breaking the Mold: Redesigning Work for Productive and Satisfying Lives (1993), had a wider perspective, looking at the impact on modern workforces of equating time at work measures with commitment and competence. The book was way ahead of its time.

Bailyn’s research consistently shows that long hours actually hinder productivity and creativity. Employers can maximise their success by encouraging maximum flexibility of work scheduling, by creating motivated employees. She argues that senior leaders need to recognise that their path to the top will not be the right path in the future: the ideal worker is no longer one who will put in long hours, attend meetings at the drop of a hat, and put their family and community in a clear second place.

Instead, organisations need to shed what Joan Williams has called ‘flexibility stigma’ and embrace what Bailyn calls the ‘dual agenda’: that we thrive best when we are able to meet our personal and business needs at the same time. This is particularly important for low wage workers whose shift scheduling can be changed at short notice, creating havoc with care arrangements. Unsurprisingly, this results in low morale, reduced productivity, and absenteeism. Bailyn finds that predictability of working hours is highly valued. Unpredictability is a more significant factor than long hours.

Her conclusion is that the presence of flexible working policies is nowhere near enough. It is the extent to which organisations see them as a positive asset to be exploited, rather than a burden to be managed. We all need to recognise that our lives outside work are intimately intermingled with our working lives. They influence our attitudes, capabilities and, ultimately, our productivity.

Taiichi Ohno: Lean Production

The engineer behind many aspects of the Toyota Production System (TPS) can justly be described as instrumental in creating one of the world’s great manufacturing businesses. But his influence goes far wider, with many of the management ideas that we take for granted originating as a part of the TPS. I promised you we’d look at him when we examined the lessons from his boss, Eiji Toyoda, so let’s see what we can learn from Taiichi Ohno.

Taiichi Ohno


Short Biography

Taiichi Ohno was born in China, where his father was working on the Manchuria Railway, in 1912, and grew up in the Aichi prefecture of Japan, attending the Nagoya technical High School. In 1932, he joined the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, which had been established by Sakichi Toyoda, who was highly innovative in the looms he designed and built. When Toyoda sold off the loom business to a British company, he determined to invest the money in an automobile business, to be headed by his son, Kiichiro Toyoda.

Kiichiro Toyoda set out to learn from US motor manufacturers, and started manufacturing vehicles in 1936 and it was he who first introduced the idea of ‘Just in Time’. However, it was when Taiichi Ohno was tasked with increasing productivity that the company started to make the breakthroughs which would later form the groundwork for Toyota’s great commercial achievements of the 1960s onwards, under Eiji Toyoda.

In looking at Toyota’s productivity levels shortly after the war, Ohno realised that the gap in performance between Toyota and the top US manufacturers of a factor ten could not be due solely to a poor Japanese workforce. He considered that the significant factor was waste; ‘Muda’. As he experimented, and took on board Kiichiro Toyoda’s ideas of Just in Time production, he gradually, over the years from 1945 to the mid-1970s, built up a coherent set of principles and practices that has come to be known as the ‘Toyota Production System’.

Towards the end of his life, Ohno spoke and wrote extensively (most notably: ‘Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production‘) about the TPS – perhaps more than his superiors really felt comfortable with. In doing so, he frequently used the metaphor of a supermarket to describe how Just in Time principles work. He had first seen, and been captivated by, supermarkets on a visit to the United States in 1956. Ohno died of heart failure in May 1990.

The Toyota Production System

The three principles at the heart of the the Toyota Production System are easy to state:

  1. Produce components just in time for their use (‘Just in Time’ production)
  2. Build quality in every part of the process (‘Jidoka’)
  3. Create one continuous process (the ‘Value Stream’)

Just in Time Production

As if the phrase Just in Time has not become well-enough known, it is supported by an idea and a practical tool that have each become central to manufacturing processes world-wide… and, indeed, to other business and organisational processes.

The first of these – and Ohno’s starting point for his reforms – is the idea of waste, or ‘Muda’. Ohno waged a systematic campaign to eliminate all possible forms of waste. In so doing, he identified the seven categories that are often known as the ‘Seven Wastes’.

  1. Defective Production – producing defective products
  2. Overproduction – producing more than is needed
  3. Waiting – idle, non-productive time
  4. Transporting – the wasted time and risks of damage or loss
  5. Inventory – holding unnecessary stock and therefore incurring capital costs
  6. Motion – the wear and tear and the accidents that arise in moving things around a plant
  7. Excessive Processing – over-specification of components, or unwanted functionality, for example

Some people add other wastes to Ohno’s original seven, most commonly placing Non-used employee talent (wasting skills) between number 3 and 4 in my ordering, so create the mnemonic acronym: DOWNTIME.

Ohno also developed a system of signboards that track progress of goods through the manufacturing process, which are called ‘Kanbans’. The kanban board is now widely used to track progress in projects throughout commerce, especially in managing software projects under agile project management methodologies.


Ohno examined every part of the manufacturing process and looked for ways to reduce errors, increase safety, and improve reliability. When he found them, he instituted rigorous staff training. The principle of building quality into everything is ‘Jidoka’. And, although he did not originate the idea of continuous improvement, known as ‘Kaizen’, Ohno’s concept of Jidoka involved daily improvement in a cycle of detecting problems, stopping production, removing the cause of the problem, and then incorporating the improvements into the standard workflow.

Another of Ohno’s greatest innovations is his problem solving methodology, the Five Whys, a way of getting at the root cause of a problem. This intelligent approach to stopping a machine when a fault arises and injecting human problem solving is Ohno’s idea of intelligent automation, or ‘autonomation’; ‘ninben no tsuita jidoka’.

Value Stream

Instead of seeing a factory as a series of inter-connected processes as Henry Ford had done, Ohno saw it as one continuous connected process. And ensuring that its efficiency is optimised is the idea of work levelling; ‘Heijunka’. This is central to eliminating waste, or Muda and is about rearranging (dynamically) the allocation of work to ensure that every resource is fully utilised at all times.

Introducing Change

Many of Ohno’s ideas seem obvious to us now but they did not at the time. And, inevitably, he encountered much resistance from the Toyota workforce. He employed one principal strategy to deal with this, that had two simple components: patience and persistence. Evolving the Toyota Production System took thirty years and, no doubt, it is ongoing today.

Adoption outside of Japan

Outside of Japan, Ohno’s ideas have been widely adopted and modified. The TPS is now more generally known as ‘lean manufacturing’ and the principles of lean thinking are increasingly being applied throughout the economy in sectors like retailing, services, telecommunications and even government service.

There does seem to be a difference, however, between Ohno’s and the two Toyodas’ philosophy and that of modern western businesses with which I am familiar. Here, we see organisations seeking to use lean principles to ‘sweat their assets’ to cut staff numbers and compel them to work harder to achieve greater productivity with fewer resources. Toyota instead thought that by making its process more efficient, its workforce could produce more without significant increases in the cost base, and so exploit new markets to create more profit.

At the heart of this is a different approach to pricing. The Western approach is to lower your cost base as low as you can, to determine a profit level, and then to sell at the price that these dictate.

'Typical' Western approach to pricing

Toyota’s success was build on a different philosophy: that the market fixes the price it will pay, and you optimise your processes to set your unit costs. Your profit is the difference.

'Successful' Toyota approach to pricing

Learn More

Toyota describes the Toyota Production System on their website, at:



Ellen Langer: Cultivated Mindfulness

Ellen Langer was researching and promoting the idea of mindfulness long before the avalanche of books and articles about it started a few years ago. Her research into what it is and what benefits it offers provides real insights for business managers and leaders, especially in the domains of innovation, charisma, and reductions in stress.

Ellen Langer

Short Biography

Ellen Langer was born in the Bronx area of New York in 1947 and grew up in neighbouring Yonkers. She attended New York University, initially studying chemistry, but after attending a psychology course with Philip Zimbardo, she swapped courses. They remain friends. She earned her BA in 1970 and went on to gain her PhD in social and clinical psychology at Yale in 1974. Her research focused on ‘the illusion of control’ – our belief that we are able to influence certain events that are really outside of our control. After a period teaching at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, she was appointed the first tenured professor in the Psychology Department of Harvard University, where she continues to teach and research. In parallel, she also runs the Langer Mindfulness Institute, a research and consulting venture.

Her research also included a notable experiment transporting older people to an immersive environment much like that of their young adulthood and observing physiological changes consistent with reduced age. This is documented in her popular book. ‘Counterclockwise: A Proven Way to Think Yourself Younger and Healthier‘. The bulk of her research has touched in one way or another on the topic of mindfulness and her original book on the subject, ‘Mindfulness‘ has recently been re-released in a 25th anniversary edition. She recently co-edited the massive academic tome, ‘The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Mindfulness‘.

What is Mindfulness?

Langer has offered a number of definitions of the term ‘mindfulness’, which are wholly consistent, but together build a rich picture of how we can understand the term. Fundamentally, we become mindful when we turn off our auto-pilot and start to pay attention to our situation. It is a conscious awareness of our context and of the content of our thoughts, in which we link context and thought patterns together.

A deeper understanding of the meaning of mindfulness can be gained from examining the dimensions of Langer’s psychometric measure, ‘the Langer Mindfulness Scale’. The four dimensions are:

Novelty Seeking
The extent to which we see every situation as a chance to learn something new.

Novelty Producing
The degree to which we tend to produce new information, to understand our situation.

The extent to which we notice details about our environment and how we relate to it.

The degree to which we embrace change, as opposed to resisting it.

Importantly, Langer’s definitions do not require meditation as a means of achieving mindfulness. Meditation, she says, is a tool. You can use it to become mindful, but you can also become mindful without meditation.

… and why does it matter to managers?

Langer asserts that most leadership problems are a result of inattention, and that organisations which create an environment that fosters mindfulness also become more effective and more innovative. This comes from her study of how people handle mistakes, which has found that a greater level of awareness of the potential for error leads to better and more flexible solutions to problems. Mindfulness reduces accidents and errors, and it also seems to reduce stress levels. Perhaps less surprising, mindfulness and attention to the people around us results in our being rated as more charismatic.

So how can you become more mindful?

Most important of all, start noticing things: be wholly present in the moment. When you find yourself worrying, examine the thoughts going through your head.If you need to make a decision, look ahead and consider how you will make it work. This way, you can notice events that are unexpected, rather than letting your cruise control run your life and therefore fail to notice small deviations. Become curious: when you do notice something, don’t just let it go past, but enquire into it. And finally, learn to savour experiences and small pleasures.

Ellen Langer speaking about ‘Mindfulness over Matter’

‘Most of us are mindless virtually all the time’

 Why we are ‘frequently in error, but rarely in doubt’

Eiji Toyoda: Yes we can

Eiji was not a management theorist and neither did he found a business. His genius lies in his absolute determination to take on a huge challenge and do difficult things… and he did it twice.

Eiji Toyoda

Brief Biography

Eiji Toyoda was born in 1913 and grew up near Japan’s third city, Nagoya. There, his father had a textile mill, so Toyoda grew up surrounded by the potent combination of engineering and business that was to define his life. He studied engineering at Tokyo Imperial University and, upon graduating in 1936, he joined his cousin’s Toyoda Automatic Loom Works business, where they set up an automobile works and soon changed the name to Toyota.

Toyoda took on a number of roles in setting up research and production planning, but the steady growth of the business was interrupted in 1941, when Japan entered the war. The General Motors car parts they needed were no longer available, and besides; the country now needed trucks. So Toyota became a truck manufacturer. In the early years after the war, trading was tough and Toyoda was heavily involved in the inevitable lay-offs. But he also decided to diversify the company’s future by establishing Toyota Motor Sales.

But there was still precious little to sell. In 1950, Toyoda visited a Ford plant in Dearborn, Michigan. In the time since Toyota had produced their first car in 1936, they had built around 2,500. What Toyoda saw was a plant producing 8,000 every day. He saw immediately that this was the future and determined to revolutionise Toyota’s manufacturing.

Toyoda – like many of his Japanese contemporaries – was often described as under-stated, or taciturn. This was characterised by his outward response to his experience in Michigan. He wrote back to Toyota headquarters that he ‘thought there were some possibilities to improve the production system.’ He brought a manual of Ford’s quality-control methods, which he had translated into Japanese, changing all references to Ford to ‘Toyota’.

This was the start of his first big challenge.

In 1955, Toyoda led the introduction of Toyota’s first mass production car, the Crown. It was a huge success in Japan, but in serving the Japanese market, it was poorly suited to the US Market, where it failed to gain a foothold. That came in 1960, when Toyota launched two new models, the Corona and the Corolla. Both sold massively in the US and, by  1975, Toyota overtook Volkswagen as the largest car importer into the US.

By then, Toyoda had been appointed president of Toyota, serving for longer than anyone to date, from 1967 to 1981, when he stepped into the newly created role of Chairman. It was as Chairman that he really took on and equalled the US, forming a joint venture with General Motors in 1984 to manufacture Toyota cars in the US.

But it was a year earlier, in 1983, that he kicked off his second big challenge: to create a luxury car to challenge the best.

This was to become the Lexus, which later grew into a new brand, to create a clear marketing distinction between the mass-market Toyota cars and the elite Lexus vehicles. His success was complete. Lexus regularly competes with prestige German marques Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

In 1984, Toyoda resigned from the Chairmanship although he continued to go into the office (where all three of his sons are executives) into his nineties. He died, shortly after his 100th birthday, in 2013.

Challenge 1: Become a World Class Manufacturer, to rival the US ‘Big Three’ auto manufacturers

Toyoda set out to take US mass-production ideas and fine tune them to the point where he could out-compete the US auto giants. He worked with a veteran loom engineer, Taiichi Ohno (who deserves, and will doubtless get, his own Pocketblog one day). They created together the ‘Toyota Production System (TPS)’ which is now more generically known as ‘Lean Production’. It rested on three core tenets:

  1. Just in time (JIT) production
    Ohno extended the concept of quality to reduction of waste and asked ‘why stockpile components?’. The result was a revolution
  2. Value Stream – also known as Value Chain
    To make JIT work, you need to see the production process as a part of a longer stream of activities from procurement to production to delivery. Customer demand drives ordering.
  3. Kaizen and Responsibility
    TPS makes everyone responsible for quality. While Toyota did not invent continuous improvement, or Kaizen, it is only when everyone takes responsibility for quality that it can really work.

Challenge 2: Create a World Class Luxury Brand, to rival established German auto manufacturers

From a top secret meeting to a world class luxury marque, Toyoda created a new brand from nothing but determination and around $2 billion of investment. Well, you can do a lot with $2 billion (I think – I’d love to try). But who, in 1983, would have thought that a Japanese car maker would out-engineer the German luxury brands? To do this, Toyoda’s engineers had an eye for detail that today reminds me of Apple. They tested the Lexus on Japanese roads, but knew that Japan would not be their primary market if they were to succeed. So they built new roads in Japan, mimicking roads in the US, UK, and Germany, and tested the Lexus on these. In the process of building the first Lexus, Toyota innovated and experimented like never before.

And what did Toyota get for their 200 patents and 450 prototypes? The Lexus LS400 and the start of a whole new world class business.

Lean Thinking

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.

Imagine that you were an Egyptian overseer, responsible for building a great pyramid for your Pharaoh. How would you want to organise things?

  • Would you want to start by knowing exactly what your Pharaoh wants?
  • Would you want to fully understand every part of the process?
  • Would you want to understand how stone moves from being part of the wall of a quarry to a perfectly fitting part of your Pharaoh’s pyramid?
  • Would you want to ensure that the giant blocks of stone arrived fast enough so the men on the ramp always had a stone ready to move up?
  • Would you want to make sure stones got up to the top of the ramp fast enough to make sure that they were there as soon as the last stone was placed on the pyramid?
  • Would you want to avoid stones arriving too fast and causing a bottleneck?
  • Would you want to make sure every stone was perfect to avoid having to stop and find a replacement or re-dress the stone on site?

If your answer is yes to all of those questions, then congratulations: you are instinctively an ancient Lean Manager.

Lean thinking is not new: the ideas have been around for a very long time and accumulated in industry over the years. But there are a few names that are strongly associated with its emergence as a driving force in organisational effectiveness in the last years of the twentieth and early years of the twenty first century.

The thinking was done by the founder of Toyota, Sakichi Toyoda, his son, Kiichiro Toyoda, and their postWW2 production chief, Taiichi Ohno. The Toyodas set out how a production line could work best, avoiding the problems of Henry Ford’s original ‘don’t stop the flow of the line if anything goes wrong – sort it out at the end’ approach. When they could not make it work due to the flaws in their supply chain, it was Ohno who then solved the practical problems.

The message came out in a landmark study by researchers from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This was published in the 1991 book ‘The Machine that Changed the World’ which introduced the world to the term ‘Lean’. Two of its authors: James Womack and Daniel Jones, went on to write a series of influential books, spelling out how to apply the lean principles they had researched at Toyota, starting with ‘Lean Thinking’ and becoming even more practical, with ‘Lean Solutions’.

The Value Chain

At the heart of Lean Thinking is an understanding of the value chain, which we discussed in an earlier post. Lean thinking starts by defining value from the point of view of the end customer for your products or services. When you do this, you usually find that only a small proportion of your activities directly contribute to that value (from the customer’s perspective). The rest – including some parts of what Michael Porter described as Primary Business Activities are only necessary as supporting this value creation.

Performance improvement comes first from eliminating steps and interactions that are not necessary for value creation and then, redesigning those that are to be as effective and efficient as possible. This means less wastage due to delays, re-work, duplication, scrapping below quality products, and oversupply.

The five principles of Lean Thinking are set out below.

The Five Principles of Lean Thinking


At various points, Lean Thinking decries wastage. The Toyota production chief set out seven sources of waste that destroy value.

  1. overproduction
  2. excessive inventory
  3. defects
  4. delays
  5. unnecessary transportation of goods
  6. unnecessary movement of materials
  7. unnecessary processing or materials

Where is there waste in your organisation?

Further Reading

In 1997, James Womack founded the Lean Enterprise Institute. Its website is a valuable source of resources for understanding more about Lean thinking.

From the Management Pocketbooks series:

  1. Improving Efficiency Pocketbook
  2. Improving Profitability Pocketbook