Last week, for the second time this year, I listened to Mike Kennedy speak about Product Development for the Lean Enterprise. Instead of speaking about his book, he shared some stories and explained why World War II is relevant to manufacturing, today.
After the second World War, the Japanese were so amazed by the pace and power of US manufacturing that they came to America to study our methods. You see, before entering the war, American industry created a document called "Training Within Industry" (TWI). This manual taught the replacement factory workers how to perform their jobs -- the manual's emphasis, however, was not on procedures and processes.
During the visit, the Japanese acquired one of the manuals and took it back to Japan where it remains under lock and key. Considering that the highly successful WW II p-51 fighter plane was designed and built in six months, you can see why a country might want to study and apply the manual's guiding principles. Obviously, American manufacturing has lost something that it once had. For now it may take ten years to design a fighter plane.
On the other hand, Toyota has embraced these principles. While Toyota's employees are measured and rewarded for sharing information, employees of American companies are rewarded for hoarding knowledge. And while American companies are tripping over themselves in the rush to move manufacturing to China, Toyota wouldn't think of moving manufacturing away from its designers in Japan. Because manufacturing is design.
Mike also talked about the "language of knowledge." I wasn't sure what this phrase meant, and learned that he developed this new concept after his book was published. Mike took the time to explain the “language of knowledge” in an email:
An important capability from Toyota is their ability to design sets of solutions, carry them far into the design process, and reuse the sets easily, even the ones discarded, for future projects. In other words, they fundamentally are continually designing an overall product space rather than discrete products. To do this, they had to find a way to actually communicate at a fundamental knowledge level. That is what I call the "language of knowledge."Back to the presentation -- The Wright Brothers, Mike explained, revolutionized aircraft design. Before the Wright Brothers, a pilot would design, then test his plane. Pilots using this approach died -- and so died their design knowledge. How were the Wright Brothers different?
They used performance trade-offs -- first test, then design. The same approach drives design at Toyota, today.
Mike finished his presentation with three keys to design: