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Lessons from Past Project Managers: Taiichi Ohno

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Claudio Gutierrez

President & Founder — Valens Project Consulting

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When talking about people who have had the most influence on project management, how can we not mention Taiichi Ohno? Ohno was the genius behind lean manufacturing and the Toyota Production System. His ways of thinking and doing things continue to influence how we manage projects today.

 

The legacy of Taiichi Ohno

Taiichi Ohno (1912-1990) was an industrial engineer best known for creating the Toyota Production System (TPS). This manufacturing philosophy was the prototype of what we now call Lean Manufacturing—something that revolutionized how things were done in the automotive world and beyond.

 

Ohno’s contributions were not all theories, however. He also applied his concepts at Toyota. That’s a big part of what made Toyota one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world.

 

Taiichi Ohno’s work philosophy was about being efficient, and he hated waste—or ‘muda’ as he called it. More importantly, he respected the people on the production floor. So, instead of only trying to make the production cheaper or faster, he also wanted to create a system that was fair to people and smart with resources.

 

Valuable insights for project managers from Taiichi Ohno’s legacy

Taiichi Ohno’s legacy still teaches us a thing or two about managing projects, no matter the industry.

 

Kaizen:

Ohno loved the idea of continuous improvement or ‘Kaizen.’ In our world of project management, that means always looking for ways to improve processes, be more efficient, and improve the quality of the end product. This involves reviewing and adjusting processes regularly, listening to what teams say, and being open to new ideas and changes.

 

Gemba:

Taiichi Ohno was known for his unique way of solving problems. He believed in getting right where the work happens—the ‘Gemba.’ As project managers, this means we need to actively engage with our teams. We should be more hands-on and work together with our teams to keep things streamlined.

 

Visual management helps:

Ohno introduced visual tools (like the Kanban system) to keep work flowing smoothly. These tools help keep everyone on the same page and break down complex processes. Today, tools like Gantt charts, dashboards, and Kanban boards are essential for keeping track of projects and goals.

 

Minimizing waste:

One of the core principles of the TPS was getting rid of waste—whether materials, time, or effort. As project managers, we should always look for these inefficiencies in our processes and try to fix them.

 

Being as efficient as possible was one of Ohno’s main goals.

 

Respecting people:

One side of Ohno’s philosophy that’s less talked about but just as important is his respect for people in the system. He believed that the success of any project depends on the people running it. That means creating a team culture where everyone matters, and collaboration is the norm.

 

Final Thoughts

Taiichi Ohno’s impact on project management and production is huge. His focus on efficiency, problem-solving, visual management, cutting out waste, and respecting people still guides our work as project managers.

 

At Valens Project Consulting, we value the insights from past project management pioneers like Taiichi Ohno. Our consultants use these teachings with modern methods to deliver successful project outcomes. So, if you want to improve your project management with proven techniques, contact us today!

 

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