Toyota Production System article

Toyota Production System (TPS) (via Mischkin Berteig


Things I didn’t learn pt.4

I’ll take this task. I’ll take that task

I just don’t seem to learn, do I?

Getting a bit of a reputation

We saw here how soldiers signed up for tasks to create our division’s schedule. We expected this method to give us an easier way to create a stable and fair schedule. And it did. After a while something else happened. Our division started to get a reputation for reliability, punctuality and trustworthiness. We’d always show up on time for tasks and perform them as required. No fuss, no complaints. Our schedules were reliable and credible. It was our schedule, our responsibility to implement it well.

Sometimes, this good reputation worked against us. If you’re the duty officer and you need some more soldiers to complete a work team, where would you look for “volunteers”?

The first rule of this team is: no shouting!

We did have to educate the NCOs (non commissioned officer, the guys ranking above soldier, below officer). In NCO school they got taught that the only way to get soldiers to do something is to shout at them. We didn’t like to be shouted at. Each time we had to deal with a new NCO, we would explain these simple rules:

  1. You don’t shout. We can hear you perfectly.
  2. You don’t threaten. You can’t scare us, because we know the rules and regulations as well as you do. Or even better. In a routine, rule-based culture he who knows the rules, rules.
  3. You tell us what needs to be done, not how.
  4. In return, we’ll perform the task efficiently, without any fuss.
  5. That way is easiest for both of us. You know it makes sense.

Most of the NCOs learned the lesson quickly. Some never did and found that dealing with us was very time consuming and tiring. So, they started shouting more and, as a result, found us getting even more tiresome. But if they asked us to perform a task, we would self-organize to get it done quickly.

The dishes are clean? Wow, that’s novel!

The quality of the work increased. For example, when you’re cleaning dishes, it doesn’t take a lot more effort to actually make them clean. We all like to eat out of clean dishes don’t we? These were still the same boring, mind-numbing tasks. But if you sign up for a task, you might as well do it right.

This was unusual. Up until then, soldiers would do the least amount of effort they could get away with. If something wasn’t done right, that was someone else’s problem. Someone else has to eat out of the dirty dishes you failed to clean. You had to eat out of the dirty dishes someone else didn’t clean well.

And what have we learned from this?

Back in the real world, tasks were assigned to me and my teammates. When I led teams, I would assign tasks and tell team members how to perform them. Luckily, I was rarely shouted at. They teach you a lot a stupid stuff at PM school, but not something that stupid.

And things were back to normal: people did their jobs, they were committed. But without “hustle“, without that bit extra where you think about what you do and don’t just do it. That’s how it’s supposed to be, isn’t it?