No shortage of interesting lessons and observations from this morning’s article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Toyota Unveils Revamped Manufacturing Process”. Let’s stick to just two of the biggies:

Toyota engineers said the company’s new production process is built on much more expansive component sharing than its existing platform-sharing strategies. Toyota said it plans to increase the use of same or similar components, regardless of vehicle size and styles, allowing it to order parts in bulk and save costs through greater economies of scale.”

I don’t think saving “costs through greater economies of scale” is really a big part of the equation, but it is the sort of thing a Wall Street Journal writer would assume. If that’s true just about everything Toyota has preached about SMED and one piece flow must be nonsense. Where the savings will come from is smaller inventories, greater utilization of fixed capacity and greater productivity and higher quality stemming from less variation in production steps.

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Reading the Wall Street Journal piece about the battle between Walmart and P&G over laundry detergent is like watching two sloppily obese drunks attempt to maul each other in a bar fight.

Walmart is now offering a German brand of laundry detergent – Persil – in order to get pricing leverage over P&G who’s Tide is the commanding market leader. “ ‘Wal-Mart never wants to have a weak balance of power against a supplier,’ said Susan Lee, a former P&G employee who is now a partner at consulting firm Simon-Kucher & Partners, where she works with consumer-products makers and retailers. ‘If Persil sales do well, Wal-Mart can shift the balance of power.’ ”

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Managers who are disempowering, out of touch with their subordinates and aloof to the goals and aspirations of the people around them are an unfortunate fact of business life. In big companies the role of HR seems to be to assure that such dismal management is universal. How else can we explain the apparent popularity of employee retention analytics software? Yeah … you read that right – ‘employee retention analytics software’.

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Samuel S. Marquis was the minister at St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Detroit back in the day and Henry Ford was one of his parishioners. The two became friends and eventually Marquis went to work for Ford in the much maligned (often unfairly) Sociological Department.

Like just about everyone else who got close to Ford, the two men ultimately had a falling out and Marquis left the company. Marquis’ book, “Henry Ford: An Interpretation” has been very difficult to find until it was recently republished because of Ford’s efforts to kill it. It is regarded as perhaps the best insight into Ford as a whole person, and makes for a quick and interesting read.

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You can tell quite a bit about a company by looking at what it goes to court over, in fact, whether it has to go to court at all. While there are nut cases on the fringes of just about all groups of folks, as general rule it is not a good sign when the company battles its stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, the community in which it operates, and stockholders – in court.

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Two hot topics among the economic and business intelligentsia strike me as pretty good indicators of leanness: The minimum wage and the availability of skilled employees. The more a company cares about those issues the less lean it is.

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