Taiichi Ohno's workplace management

is an excellent book by Taiichi Ohno (isbn 978-0-07-180801-9). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages:
When I was a middle school student in the old system, we studied the Chinese classics, and during this class we learned from the Analects of Confucius. In these writings Confucious says, "The wise will mend their ways" and "The wise man should not hesitate to correct themselves."... Confucius was saying that we should change gracefully... I think his words mean that in the end it is not good if you hold onto your ideas too strongly and try stubbornly to justify them.
When we said we would set up a centralized grinding operation, one experienced worker said, "No, we tried that during the war, but it failed. That's why we do it the way we do now." [I said] "I did not see it fail during the war. Show me again how it fails. If I am persuaded by this, I will let you continue doing it the way you do it now."
If you asked me, "What is the most important part of production control?" I would say it is to limit overproduction.
The kanban was a slip that indicated how many pieces they were coming to get, so that if they were going to take ten parts this became a production instruction slip directing the production line to make ten pieces.
When lot sizes are small, you need to do changeovers more frequently.
Stopping the line causes a great loss, so this forces us to think, "How do we keep them from stopping the line?" and this results in more and more quality kaizen.
You can only really tell what is better based on results.
Accounting cannot do any cost reduction... The shop floor reduces inventory. This money goes to the bank... Instead, accounting thinks it just needs to allocate cost savings targets.
There is something called standard work, but standards should be changing constantly. Instead, if you think of the standard as the best you can do, it's all over. The standard is only a baseline for doing further kaizen. It is kaiaku if things get worse than now, and it is kaizen if things get better than now. Standards are set arbitrarily by humans so how can they not change?
You must create a standard for comparison.
Drop a nut once and pick it up. Working at the average time is like trying to catch the nut halfway because letting it drop all the way down takes too long... There is no such thing as average value in this world.
Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the old masters, seek instead what these masters sought. [Matsu Basho 1644-1694]
Once he asked me how the terms kaizen and kairyo (reform) were differentiated in the West. I said that while kaizen means to make improvements by using brains, kairyo means to make improvements by using money, and that in the West, most managers only think of improvement in terms of money. [Massaki Imai]
Let the flow manage the processes, and not let management manage the flow.
The aim of kanban is to make troubles come to the surface and link them to kaizen activity. I tell people, "Let idle people play rather than do unnecessary work."
The production line that never stops is either excellent or terrible.
Costs exist to be reduced, not to be calculated.

lessons from geese

Here are some facts about Geese, borrowed from Dr Robert McNeish. They appeared in an issue of Southwest Airlines corporate newsletter.

When you see geese heading back north for the summer flying along in a "V" formation you might be interested in knowing what scientists have discovered about why they fly that way. It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in "V" formation, the whole flock adds a least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.

Whenever a goose falls out of formation it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front.

When the leads goose gets tired, he rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.

The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

When a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshot and falls out, two geese fall out of formation and follow him down to help and protect him. They stay with him until he is able to fly or until he is dead, and then they launch out on their own or fly with another formation to catch up with their group.

the pleasure of finding things out

is an excellent book by Richard Feynman (isbn 978-0-141-03143-9). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages:
Looking at the bird he says, "Do you know what that bird is? It's a brown throated thrush; but in Portuguese it's a … in Italian a …, " he says "in Chinese it's a …, in Japanese a …," etcetera. "Now," he says, "you know in all the languages you want to know what the name of the bird is and when you've finished with all that," he says, "you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You only know about humans in different places and what they call the bird. Now," he says, "let's look at the bird."
I said, "Say, Pop, I noticed something: When I pull the wagon the ball rolls to the back of the wagon, and when I'm pulling it along and I suddenly stop, the ball rolls to the front of the wagon," and I says, "why is that?" And he said, "That nobody knows," he said. "The general principe is that things that are moving try to keep on moving and things that are standing still tend to stand still unless you push on them hard." And he says, "This tendency is called inertia but nobody knows why it's true." Now that's a deep understanding - he doesn't give me a name, he knew the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something, which I learnt very early.
To do high, real good physics work you do need absolutely solid lengths of time.
You cannot expected old designs to work in new circumstances.
If you are in a hurry, you must dissipate heat.
We had lots of fun.
The people underneath didn't know at all what they were doing. And the Army wanted to keep it that way; there was no information going back and forth... I felt that you couldn't make the plant safe unless you knew how it worked… I said that the first thing there has to be is that the technical guys know what we're doing. Oppenheimer went and talked to the security people and got special permission. So I had a nice lecture in which I told them what we were doing, and they were all excited. We're fighting a war. We see what it is. They knew what the numbers meant. If the pressure came out higher, that meant there was more energy released and so on and so on. They knew what they were doing. Complete transformation! They began to invent ways of doing it better. They supervised the scheme. They worked all night. They didn't need supervising at night. They didn't need anything. They understood everything. They invented several of the programs that we used and so forth. So my boys really came through and all that had to be done was to tell them what it was, that's all. It's just, don't tell them they're punching holes. As a result, although it took them nine months to do three problems before, we did nine problems in three months.
Most of the trouble was the big shots coming all the time and saying you're going to break something, going to break something.
We used to go for walks often to get rest.
Advertising, for example, is an example of a scientifically immoral description of the products.
The magnetic properties on a very small scale are not the same as on a large scale.
But what we ought to be able to do seems gigantic compared with our confused accomplishments. Why is this? Why can't we conquer ourselves?
Erosion and blow-by are not what the design expected. They are warnings that something is wrong. The equipment is not operating as expected, and therefore there is a danger that it can operate with even wider deviations in this unexpected and not thoroughly understood way… The O-rings of the Solid Booster Rockets were not designed to erode. Erosion was a clue that something was wrong. Erosion was not something from which safety can be inferred.
We have also found that certification criteria used in Flight Readiness Reviews often develop a gradually decreasing strictness.
The computer software checking system and attitude is of highest quality. There appears to be no process of gradually fooling oneself while degrading standards so characteristic of the Solid Rocket Booster or Space Shuttle Main Engine safety systems. To be sure, there have been recent suggestions by management to curtail such elaborate and expensive tests as being unnecessary at this late date in Shuttle history. This must be resisted for it does not appreciate the mutual subtle influences, and sources of error generated by even small changes of one part of a program on another. There are perpetual requests for changes as new payloads and new demands and modifications are suggested by the users. Changes are expensive because they require extensive testing. The proper way to save money is to curtail the number of requested changes, not the quality of testing for each.
Official management, on the other hand, claims to believe the probability of failure is a thousand times less. One reason for this may be an attempt to assure the government of NASA perfection and success in order to ensure the supply of funds. The other may be that they sincerely believe it to be true, indicating an almost incredible lack of communication between themselves and their working engineers.
It is presumptuous if one says, "We're going to find the ultimate particle, or the unified field laws," or "the" anything.

driving in India

Patterns of Software by Richard Gabriel is one of my favourite books. On page 60 he quotes Christopher Alexander (who is talking about D'Arcy Thompson)
What Thompson insisted on was that every form is basically the end result of a certain growth process. ... Thompson was saying that everything is the way it is today because it is the result of a certain history - which of course includes how it got made. At the time I read this I did not really understand it very well; whereas I now realize that he is completely right.
I'll use an example to try and illustrate this idea of, as Jerry Weinberg puts it, things being the way they are because they got that way. The example is driving in India.

The most obvious thing that strikes me when I visit Bangalore or Chennai is the almost constant horn tooting. Is tooting your horn a formally taught behaviour, or is it learned behaviour I wondered. I asked some friends who live in India. They said it is not something you're taught. It is learned behaviour. I find this fascinating. It could mean that at some point in past tooting was common, but not endemic, and that for some reason or reasons it reached a tipping point and became endemic. What are those reasons? Why did they prevail? Do those reasons apply to all Indian cities or are some quieter than others? Do the reasons shed any light on whether endemic horn tooting will or won't ever go away?

A pattern I started to sense during my most recent trip is when a slow vehicle is stuck behind an even slower vehicle (a bus for example) and toots the horn as if to say "move over". The bus slowly moves over, the first vehicle passes it, and as it goes by toots twice, the first toot to say "thank" and the second toot to say "you". I never got the sense the tooting was overtly aggressive. I think drivers are tooting mostly to tell other drivers where they are. Considering the apparent chaos everyone is remarkably relaxed! The tooting has become part of a system of communication.

Naturally, once certain behaviours get a foothold, other behaviours adapt to them, helping to reinforce the co-evolving system. Drivers of slow vehicles start to rely on other drivers tooting them if they want to pass. They politely ask people to toot them by painting "Blow horn" signs on the backs and sides of their trucks. Artistic individuals spot an opportunity and, for a small fee, offer to paint ever more elaborate "Horn please" signs. Before you know it Volkswagen pre-fits cars it sells in India with slightly louder electromechanical horns. Now some truck drivers don't move over unless they're tooted and you have to toot if you want to pass. Viola. A co-evolving, intertwingled, history. Things are the way they are because they've got that way.

Large potholes in the road are common. Roads in India don't really have left lanes and right lanes so much as worse lanes and better lanes. I certainly don't recall seeing any white-line lane-dividers. What looks like total lane switching "indiscipline" is again simply sensible adaptive driving.

If traffic moved very fast the frequent lane switching would be downright dangerous. But traffic doesn't move fast. One reason is simply that lots of the traffic is old. Driving a new car in a sea of old cars could be quite dangerous (because of the brakes). Perhaps that's partly why the roads are regularly punctuated with pretty severe speed-bumps (actual ones as well as the pot holes). The speed-bumps keep your speed low even if you have a new car. So why buy a more expensive new car? Things are the way they are because they've got that way.

The traffic is also very varied. There are trucks, buses, masses of 3 wheeler took-tooks, huge numbers of motorbikes, push-bikes, push-trikes, pedestrians, carts, cows, you name it. As the traffic constantly switches lanes spaces of varying sizes constantly appear. No matter what the size of the space, there is always some form of road user just the right size to fill it. The variety encourages lane switching and the lane switching encourages variety. It gets that way.

Another reason traffic crawls is sheer numbers. More than a billion people Iive in India. There's a lot of traffic because there's a lot of people. And a lot of those people are young people. According to Wikipedia more than 50% of the Indian population is below the age of 25! The average middle-class home in a city such as Chennai is about 20 times the average middle class salary. Combine that with 10%+ interest rates and it's easy to see that a lot of people cannot afford to live in the city where they work. With so many young people, a hot climate, and a urban army of forced commuters it's no wonder there are so many motorbikes and buses, and increasingly, small cars. Things are the way they are because they got that way.

And a system that has got a certain way will, all things being equal, want to stay that way. A system will resist change. That's virtually a definition of a system. Only by resisting does it sit still long enough to be recognisable as something at all!