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Project Management - Tips - History - Issue nr. 2

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... but since there was nothing left to accomplish in this respect,

attention became focused only on the sort of thing that caught the eye.

[Frederick the Great]


Misfits of project management

Issue nr. 2 - The "Toyota system" and its "worshippers"


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·      Introduction

·      The “Toyota system” and its “worshippers”

·      Why?

·      Flash - Project Management and History (1)

·      Tip – 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?  

The news 

Before that, an old piece of news: it would appear Fiat began adopting the “Toyota system” in its Melfi site. 

An article (July 1st, 2008) reported that the Melfi site of Fiat was going to stop production for three days.

On December 22nd, 2008, Toyota announced a loss: “The carmaker will post a 150 billion yen ($1.7 billion) loss in the year through March …” and “The carmaker’s sales in the U.S., traditionally its most profitable market, plunged 34 percent in November. Toyota’s European sales dropped 34 percent last month, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association in Brussels. 

On January 13th, 2009, an influential financial newspaper published an article: Fiat’s `number two´ had left Fiat the day before.

Today (January 14th, 2009), an influential financial newspaper published two articles, one beside the other.

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 Division [link]´.

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.

  Some considerations 

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 say “Look, Toyota is making money, let’s copy them!”

Whoever says “I follow the Toyota system”, 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 revealing? 

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 acceptable.

Nonetheless, the “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.

Sometimes, people 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 lost.


But … in the meantime Chinese companies were selling more and more; not cars, but they were conquering the world. Try to guess? Prince2, the Project Management methodology born in Europe, was conquering China.

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 Project Management methodology, and a very successful one (in Europe!) if only for that.

What is that?



How is it that excellent Western methodologies are forgotten to the advantage of exotic “systems”?

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?

Look for the rudder, ask to see it and ask the captain for certificates attesting his rank.


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 (1045-770 b.c.).

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 articulated.

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 “having resources.`


Produce what is profitable: there must be products and those products must be profitable.

Why should we be surprised that 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 business


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 you.


 ·       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 truth 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 times.

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 central(at)righetconsult.com





bulletIssue nr. 1: The "visible project management"
bulletIssue nr. 3: An e-mail from X-City
bulletIssue nr. 4: Where is the beef?
bulletIssue nr. 5: I "supermercati" del project management
bulletIssue nr. 6: Tools reloaded
bulletIssue nr. 7: I radicali liberi & I docciaioli

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Last updated: 08/01/14.