Misfits of project
nr. 2 -
The "Toyota system" and its "worshippers"
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system” and its “worshippers”
Flash - Project Management and History (1)
How to find
out in 11 minutes whether your project people know their business
This is an ironic newsletter – we like having fun.
Some “resumé” for those
who have not read Issue nr.1.
Why a newsletter on
misfits? The idea came to us in Lugano on a Sunday afternoon: we were
thinking about a seminar we had attended the week before in another country,
and we were laughing at the “visible project management” which had even been
called a methodology.
Because of a strange
coincidence, the evening before we had been writing an introduction to
project management; to our own surprise, part of that introduction had to be
dedicated to de-mithing some “conventional wisdom” elements.
So, this is where, how
and why this newsletter was born.
The “Toyota system” and its “worshippers”
Some time ago, we wrote a tiny article on the “Toyota system”, Toyota and
Fiat. We guessed; in view of the latest news … were we right?
Before that, an old piece of
news: it would appear Fiat began adopting the “Toyota system” in its
2008) reported that the Melfi site of Fiat was going to stop production for
On December 22nd,
2008, Toyota announced a
“The carmaker will post a 150 billion yen ($1.7
billion) loss in the year through March
…” and “The carmaker’s sales in the
traditionally its most profitable market, plunged 34 percent in November.
Toyota’s European sales dropped 34 percent last month, according to the
Manufacturers Association in Brussels.”
January 13th, 2009, an influential financial newspaper published
article: Fiat’s `number two´ had left Fiat the day before.
Today (January 14th,
2009), an influential financial newspaper published two articles, one beside
According to the
article on Toyota, starting in June, 2009, `a member of the Toyoda family
which founded the group´ will return to the `command post´.
According to both
articles on Fiat, Fiat’s “number 2” had been working for Toyota from 1998 to
2002, in particular for Toyota Motor Europe with `amongst other tasks,
responsibility for product planning and coordination of the Lexus brand
commercial planning and the task of General Manager, Product Management
Now, is it a case? The
historic Toyota management takes the lead again (getting rid of the recent
management) and … Fiat’s “number 2” leaves Fiat.
The “Toyota system”. We
have never liked it.
In our opinion, it is
solely applicable to very big companies operating in the car industry or
similar industries; even in that case, we think it implies unnecessary
expenses (e.g., “Set Based Concurrent Engineering”) and it can be worth only
in bullish times.
Moreover, in our
opinion it is not a project management methodology, it is a work philosophy
tailored for the Japanese mentality.
Nonetheless, at project
management seminars scores of people “worship” it, refer to it and so on.
Why? Because Toyota was selling scores of cars.
How often have we heard
of “best practice”, which in itself is a good concept and means “take
the experience of others into consideration with a pinch of salt”?
Maybe one doesn’t like salt, or maybe it is easier to go to the Board and
Toyota is making money,
let’s copy them!”
Whoever says “I
says it proudly, he/she seems to say “I am making use of the best”.
It was once said that
an ordeal would reveal the truth;
nowadays, one would speak of “trial by fire”, but they have a different
meaning: the latter refers to “real fighting” (for us, practical use), the
former refers to a telling situation such as bad markets (or a very
difficult fighting situation for a soldier).
What is the ordeal
You know, at seminars
we met some people who said they had tried to apply the “Toyota system” in
the West but, unless they extensively modified it, results wouldn’t be
“Toyota system” couldn’t be discussed, not really. As a result, scores of
“project managers” began pronouncing those two words more and more often; it
was “trendy”, you know.
termed “outmoded” those competitors who hadn’t adopted the “Toyota system”.
As for us, “poor”
certified Project Managers, who knew of the Western methodologies we were
making use of? If one had spoken of the “Toyota system”, everyone would have
been interested; if someone had spoken of
Prince2, people would have looked
But … in the meantime
Chinese companies were selling more and more; not cars, but they were
conquering the world. Try to guess?
Project Management methodology born in
Stop! What is that?
Everyone in Europe was
looking in awe at Chinese results; all the while, Europeans were going crazy
for an Asian “work philosophy”. China was been conquered by a true
Management methodology, and a very successful one (in Europe!) if only for
What is that?
How is it that
excellent Western methodologies are forgotten to the advantage of exotic
Because it is easy. It
is easy to go to a buyer and tell him “I bring the X system; look, others
are making money”.
How much more difficult
it is to tell buyers “I have a successful methodology you may have never
heard of; I have studied a lot to learn it and pass exams”! After all,
what does the Swiss or Italian buyer know of Prince2, for example?
And … one must be
certified to apply Prince2 or PMP; is that true for other “methods”?
And … when one is
applying a true methodology, one can’t drift too much.
It is said that
rudderless ships are good only at drifting; true captains hate drifting
because they are very good at navigating.
The only problem is …
how can passengers find out which ships will probably begin drifting once
the port is no longer in sight?
the rudder, ask to see it and ask the captain for certificates attesting his
Flash - Project Management and History (1)
Today, we speak of ancient China.
In the ´T’ai Kung’
one of the famous military classics of ancient China, the ´Fu-hsin`
(Chief of Planning) is foreseen:
`One: in charge of
advising about secret plans for responding to sudden events [Nowadays
one would call them Contingency Plans]; investigate Heaven so as to
eliminate sudden change; exercising general supervision over all planning;
and protecting and preserving the lives of the people.’
The T’ai Kung dates
back to the Warring States period (403-221 b.c.) in its discovered form, but
was probably originally conceived at the beginning of the Chou dynasty
It is very precise on a
point: the Chief of Planning is one.
The T’ai Kung stresses
the importance of organizing the state, both in peace and in war.
On the other hand, an
ancient Chinese army required an enormous amount of effort to make
everything ready for a campaign: logistics was huge and equipment was very
Organization was very
important (exactly as in Prince2 project management): long and very specific
descriptions of military roles are given.
Training is considered
very important in another military classic, the Ssu-ma (about fourth
century b.c, but it probably comprises much older material).
Ssu-ma means “the
officer in charge of horses”: that says a lot, doesn’t it?
`In warfare: it is
not forming a battle array that is difficult; it is reaching the point that
the men can be ordered into formation that is hard.’
That doesn’t entail
training only, but also a lot of logistics and planning.
About benefits: `When
they [the masses] thereby produce what is profitable, this is termed
Produce what is
there must be products and those products must be profitable.
Why should we be
Prince2 is conquering China? Prince is product-based;
besides, it says a project must be profitable through its products.
Ancient Chinese had
reached very important conclusions centuries before Christ.
Tip – How to find out in 11 minutes whether your project people know their
Ask the project manager what the state of products is. Mind, the state of
products, not activities.
If he looks lost
or begins speaking of activities, press him; if, then, he begins finding
excuses ask him why you were never informed of problems. Then it is up to
If he has a good idea
of the products’ state, ask him about specific problems.
If he only says
that there are no problems at all, ask him what could be done (on your part,
too) to improve the situation. If he answers he has nothing to suggest, be
diffident and speak to project team members; begin thinking of an
independent project manager for a check.
If he says
there are some minor problems, ask for details: if they are not minor
problems … you have got a problem.
If he tells you the
about problems and he gives useful suggestions on what may be improved, the
11-minutes exam is over :-)
“Misfits of project management” is free and
can be freely forwarded: some healthy fun is necessary in these modern
Being an ironic newsletter, it reflects only
ideas. “Answers” or assertions that are not between inverted commas [‘….’]
are not to be considered as “true” answers or assertions: that is only a way
to express ironically what is perceived.
We make use of another set of inverted commas
[“….”]: those are no quotations at all, just a literary device of ours to
make concepts clearer.
If you desire to contribute with your
experiences or ideas, please drop us an e-mail at