Ninjutsu Management

Ninjutsu Management
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In Chapter 2 of Taiichi Ohno’s 1978 book Toyota Seisan Hoshiki (Toyota Production Method), Mr. Ohno describes the uniqueness of Japanese management as “ninjutsu management” (the English edition, Toyota Production System, was published in 1988).

What does “nin” mean? It means to conceal, move stealthily, or invisibility, while “jutsu” means art or technique. In the context of Chapter 2, “Development of Toyota Production System,” it is the art or technique of taking daily actions on the genba to develop practical skills and capabilities. Thus, ninjutsu means unconventional strategy and tactics to develop skills via hands-on training.

This differs markedly from typical classroom training which usually places little to no requirement for subsequent on-the-job practice. And certainly, in most cases, there is little- to-no management follow-up to determine if training participants have applied what they learned on-the-job. Further, management, from supervisor to CEO, generally has little interest in the creative expression that should follow from classroom training and on-the-job practice.

Here is what Mr. Ohno said in the Japanese edition (p.125, according to Google translate), which differs from the English edition in some small but important ways:

I often emphasize that ‘management should not be based on arithmetic; management should be based in ninjutsu’… What I mean by ‘ninjutsu management’ means acquiring management techniques through training. I would like to point out that in this day and age, we are forgetting too much about training. Of course, unless it is a stimulating technique that brings out human ingenuity, there would be no point in training.

What is the stimulating training technique that characterizes ninjutsu management, the practical skills and capabilities developed on the genba that brings out human ingenuity? Kaizen. Kaizen is the unconventional training strategy and tactics for skills and capability development on the genba. It happens daily, in a stealth mode, to improve management of the work. Going to the genba is not enough. One must manage the genba via ninjutsu so that it is improved every day.

This is the deficiency of so-called “Lean tools” because they have been extracted from the context of kaizen. Most people use Lean tools in a rote fashion and therefore do not experience the stimulation that brings out human ingenuity.

So, like ninja’s whose practical skills and capabilities are developed through training and combat to assure survival of the clan, employees develop practical skills and capabilities through training and genba kaizen to ensure survival of their company. While Mr. Ohno spoke only a few dozen words about ninjutsu management, the words are incredibly important to understanding how the Toyota Production System was developed.

Everybody says don’t copy Toyota. Maybe you should. It would be unconventional.

Note: Shingijutsu kaizen consultants always dress in black out of respect for ninja history and ninjutsu tradition.

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