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4 Agile Don'ts by Ko Ito

4 Big Agile Don’ts Learned from TPS

 1. Don't Be Agile

While Agile methods can trace significant influences back to Lean Manufacturing, which was inspired by the Toyota Production System (TPS), Taiichi Ohno, the father of TPS, says, “Don’t be agile,” in his book, “Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production”.

Many people believe that cost reduction can be achieved if man-hours can be reduced. However, rather than the cost getting reduced, it can go up in some cases. So, labor saving through automation can sometimes be the cause of some problems related to cost. (p. 208

Ohno says if you try speeding up this labor-saving, cost reduction process with automation, then inventory will build up and create huge waste. He argues that to increase productivity, it is important to level the flow of the supply chain from a holistic view, rather than being agile in a particular process.

We all know that unsustainable agility is futile through the story of “The Rabbit and the Turtle”, which we have read when we were in childhood. (p. 113)

This is not limited to automotive factories. If you increase the number of lanes on a highway to eliminate congestion, for example, then the cars will speed up partially and increase total congestion. There are many other examples where partial optimization causes bad results in the whole.

Here are more examples:

  • Barrier-free reduces physical activity, but then promotes dementia.
  • Food aid reduces starvation, but then increases population and poverty.
  • Integration and centralization will stop everything in case of failure.
  • Excessive sterilization reduces resistance, but then increases allergic patients.

These are the common dilemmas we have in a mature society. To deal with this, we dare to deny conventional value and find the new value that can be obtained from it. TPS increased productivity by denying Agile and by focusing instead on Flow. We need to recall the lesson of “The Usefulness of the Useless”, which means that what looks wasteful turns into value depending on time and purpose.

Here are some examples:

  • Taking a nap after lunch enhances concentration.
  • Tsunamis and floods generate rich soil.
  • Failure is a source of learning and growth.
  • Manual work creates small ingenuity every day.
  • Eating a banana before shopping saves money.

2. Don't Be Ready

TPS also warns of predictive planning. “The Farmer and the Hunter” concept can be transcribed as a metaphor into the analogy of predictive versus adaptive approaches.

Don’t be a farmer who prepares for enough stock in advance. You must be a hunter and have the courage to get what you need, when you need it, and as much as you need. (p. 29)

Farmers can only get food during the harvest season, so they must prepare and stock up in advance. However, hunters can go out to hunt for food and get what they need, when they need it, and get as much as they need. This is the idea of the ​​”just-in-time” (JIT) system or “pull system” that creates as much as you need when you need it.

When you were a child, you might have been scolded by a parent or guardian for not doing homework until the last minute. From that experience, many people think that forward scheduling is good, and backward scheduling is bad.

However, backward scheduling has been common in the food industry for a long time.

For example, a French chef watches the pace of a customer’s meal and begins cooking the next dish to serve just in time exactly when the customer finishes eating the current dish or course. Businesses that ship fruits or fresh flowers also use the backward scheduling system.

Please think about it for a moment and try to find other cases where we should wait until the last minute to deliver a product.

3. Don't Assign Roles

The third don’t is role related. Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka introduced the idea of ​​self-organization in an article published in the Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/1986/01/the-new-new-product-development-game).

Self-organization, in the context of cell biology, in simple terms refers to the mysterious phenomenon that occurs when some cells become the heart, some cells become the brain, and some cells form the bones during the process of cell division, as if they know their roles, despite all the cells having the same DNA information.

The mechanism of self-organization is unknown but the level of research is still descriptive rather than prescriptive, just the same as the PMBOK® Guide.

There are many examples of self-organization in nature. For example, ants are social creatures that have a clear role such as nurturing or foraging. However, it is known that if only the battle ants are collected to form one colony, the roles will be differentiated at the same rate.

Such an ultimate multi-skilled worker is called “Tanou Kou” in TPS.

Rugby players can individually decide internally the optimum movement with the holistic view of the whole game in mind during a match without the control of other people telling them exactly what to do and when. Improvisational jazz performances and waves in stadiums are also examples of self-organization.

There are many workplaces where each person can autonomously perform the necessary work according to the situation without a predefined role.

4. Don't Try to Improve

Socrates said, “I know that I know nothing”. Just as JIT was born from the belief that we don’t know the future demand, to know that you don’t know is the essence of TPS philosophy. Progress will stop when you think you know. If you set the measurement of good, progress will be saturated soon. However, learning can be continuous because we can’t know everything.

The predictive approach is for engineering that develops something from knowledge. The adaptive approach is for science that develops knowledge from the unknown. People gain knowledge through a hypothesis-verification cycle. Dr. William Edwards Deming calls it the PDCA cycle, Toyota calls it Kaizen, and Scrum calls it Sprint.

The predictive and adaptive approaches are likened to Western and Japanese gardens. Western gardens pursue the ultimate beauty based on symmetry, while Japanese gardens are designed on the idea of Shogyo Mujo in Buddhism, which means nothing can remain the same.

The shape of beauty always changes with the surrounding environment and the mind of the viewer, so the ultimate beauty cannot be defined.

You can keep improving your project by discovering another form of beauty.

A Garden in London; and a Garden in Japan.

 A Garden in London; and a Garden in Japan.

Freelance Trainer, Translator and Course Developer
Consultant and Trainer, International Institute for Learning

Ko’s experience spans over 15 years, and he has provided various online and offline trainings in Project Management, Business Analysis, Leadership, and Agile, after working with several American IT companies including DEC, HP, and Intel.

Ko also has courses in several schools including the National Institute of Technology, Keio University, and Ishikawa IT Center Business School. Additionally, he has worked as a trainer at Botswana Public Service College in Africa.

Ko earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and MBA from Waseda University in Tokyo. He finished his Doctoral Program at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Graduate School of Innovation Management. He is the first Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) in Japan.

Visit Ko’s social media links to learn more.
Facebook: facebook.com/ko.ito2
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/ko-ito-japan
Twitter: twitter.com/ko_ito

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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