When the Same “Error” is Repeated Over and Over ….

Hal Macomber, writing in Reforming Project Management, tells us that Jim Womack, has been advising Ford CEOs for many years about how to stay out of trouble: ‘copy Toyota:’

“…my prescription for new Ford CEO Alan Mullaly is the same (as it was for former CEO Jac Nassar): Fundamentally rethink the supplier management system. Fundamentally rethink the product development system. And fundamentally rethink the production system from order to raw materials and from raw materials to delivery, with special attention to the information management system. (Much can still be learned from Ford’s Mazda subsidiary, which became an able pupil of Toyota after a crisis in 1973.) Above all, fundamentally rethink what mangers do and how they do it in order to regain the gemba consciousness that originally took Ford to world dominance. In brief, Ford needs to remake itself once more, this time in the image of the company that copied Ford’s original system: Toyota.”

Why is he repeating a failed prescription, and as if the listener has not attempted to apply it? Greg points out that there is a major failure of speaking and listening happening here. Is what Womack is saying not sensical? Are the listeners not listening? Are they interpreting something different than what Womack is thinking himself?

Can it be possible that no one at Ford has done the homework to re-think what they are doing? Yes, it is.

More likely is the way that Greg put it: the cultural background in which people in the US tend to ask these questions – and to listen to Jim Womack, for example – is shallowly connected to questions of improving for the next quarter, for the next model year, and improving the things they are making. In that tradition, it is easy for no one to notice that what needs to be changed is the way that people are thinking about what they are doing, how they are oriented to the business, how they speak and listen to one another.

We don’t like the interpretation of our earlier list of possible sources of the failure of Ford, are they simply too stupid, block-headed, pig-headed, obtuse, perversely concerned with greedy topics, ensnarled in historic fights with labor and labor advocates, etc., etc.??


© Copyright 2006, Chauncey Bell and BABDI, LLC. All rights reserved worldwide.

“Advice to Ford: Dump cars”

David Olive, writing in the Toronto Star on Aug 28th, tells us the “truth” of Toyota’s secret of success, in an article about Ford’s difficulties:

“Ford Motor Co., revealed last week to be in even worse shape than its ailing crosstown rival, General Motors Corp., really should think about dumping everything but its truck business. Almost everything else at the world’s third-largest automaker is a costly distraction — conspicuously its crowded stable of car brands, including Volvo, Mazda, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin. …

“What we do know is that Ford’s core North American operation has bled $3.8 billion (U.S.) in red ink over the past year and a half. That its U.S. business has been losing market share for 11 consecutive years. And that its credit rating has been downgraded ever deeper into junk territory, sapping profits at its Ford Motor Credit division — one of Ford’s few reliable cash cows. …

Even a cursory glance at Ford, with its revolving-door senior management woes and periodic crises dating from the 1940s, tells you it’s simply not a natural car maker, in the way that Toyota, Honda and BMW just naturally are. …”

Now, 50-odd years after starting the odyssey in which it invented its production system, we discover that Toyota is a born natural. God and destiny determined that they would succeed, and, sadly, that Ford would fail.

© Copyright 2006, Chauncey Bell and BABDI, LLC. All rights reserved worldwide.

You Can Waste a Lot of Money Eliminating Waste

Here is one reason that we think so many people have put so much effort into imitating the Toyota Production System and still we find Detroit in such a mess.

One of the cornerstones of the Toyota Production System is the commitment to eliminate waste. But “waste” in this context doesn’t mean what most people think it does.

Value and waste are interpretations, shaped by the concerns of the cultures and enterprises in which they appear. The most important wastes (and values) of the last 100+ years were shaped by industrial era concerns for conserving physical and economic resources, financial capital, and production capacity.

The most important values and wastes for the era we have entered are not the same.

Many of those hell-bent on eliminating waste are “looking for love in all the wrong places.”

The central wastes of the new era will be shaped by our concerns for building effective relationships to deal with the challenge of coordinating in this continuously changing, globally connected world.

Have you got examples? Can you see what we are pointing at?

 © Copyright 2006, Chauncey Bell and BABDI, LLC. All rights reserved worldwide.

Maybe the Great US Auto Industry is a Goner.

Greg Neil speculates that maybe the construction industry will be first to invent a 21st century version of what Toyota did, and the US will pass out of contention in the manufacture of automobiles over the coming decades. (Ps: Toyota is a major player in the housing industry in Japan ….)

In the 1950s, Japan was really listening. Life itself was at stake. For fifty years now, our executives in Detroit have had the opportunity to listen, and have not been listening. We have been copying Voltaire’s idiot, Candide, spouting “It’s all for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” I remember when my friend George Kuper returned from an early visit to a Toyota plant in Japan with a covey of US executives, who were puzzled, “What possessed those Japanese businessmen to try and convince us that they were running automobile plants without inventories and warehouses?”

Are essential qualities that have made this a great country disappearing? … no longer relevant? What were those of earlier eras in this country listening to? What are those running the automotive companies today listening to?

© Copyright 2006, Chauncey Bell and BABDI, LLC. All rights reserved worldwide.

Why Haven’t US Automakers Caught On?

While we are at it, let’s follow some other threads as well.

Why have GM and Ford, (and Daimler-Chrysler, and a host of others) not simply copied the successful practices of Toyota? Is what they are doing so unusual, mysterious, or hidden? Since the 1950’s Toyota has invited people to come and tour their plants. Later they sent some of their most senior engineers to Detroit to teach for a number of years in US schools. They said they were doing that to give honor to Henry Ford and others from whom they had learned.

For decades US automakers have picked up popular jargon that originated with the Toyota Production System – just-in-time, continuous improvement, eliminating waste, five why’s, root causes, and so forth – and used it in improvement programs and in describing to the press the things they were doing to improve their companies.

(Is this all marketing hype? Are the companies actually trying to do anything there? From a good deal of work inside the auto industry, I have the interpretation that a large number of people inside the companies are actually trying to improve what they are doing.)

Some claim that Japanese culture lends itself to the kind of operation that Toyota has, and the US culture does not lend itself to this. Taiichi Ohno, Continue reading “Why Haven’t US Automakers Caught On?”

Nicolas asks, “What about Wal-Mart….?”

Nicolas asks:

How do you see business enterprises that have historically done much harm to people and the environment as fitting into your claims about enterprises? For example, sugar and cotton production on the backs of African slaves in the New World, or the fossil fuel industry and its accompanying environmental degradation and military interventions in the Mid-East, or Wal-Mart-style corporations and the extinction of small businesses, or sweatshop commodity production? Are these enterprises just incredibly misguided?

Thank you for the great question(s)! Let’s explore:

  1. All of the examples fit. Each of the institutions you mention was constituted as a collection of historical communities to take care of particular concerns, constituted itself in networks of commitments, and accumulated capital (power is a good synonym) of various sorts – financial, pragmatic, symbolic or political. Continue reading “Nicolas asks, “What about Wal-Mart….?””