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THE JAPANESE QUEST FOR "THE BETTER WAY"

by Rene T. Domingo (email comments to rtd@aim.edu)

Outside Japan - we, being exposed only to Japanese products, Japanese ads and Japanese trading companies - we tend to oversimplify and explain away the phenomenon of Japanese business success by attributing it to their sheer marketing drive. But were we to live in that country long enough to study their modus operandi, we would discover that their true competitive advantage lies in their superior manufacturing and production systems, which provide their marketing front-liners with the needed firepower and staying power. Their marketing force can offer the best quality, variety, price and delivery time, because their production people can assure them of these things. Most competitors lose out to the Japanese, because of their bottle-neck in production, which tends to drag down marketing.

What is the secret of the Japanese? An insatiable company-wide desire to cut costs and inventory, improve quality and delivery, and enhance efficiency. An indefatigable work improvement effort that is not just a project (with a beginning and an end), not a mere management goal or directive, nor one of those faddish, throw-away management techniques. It is a WAY OF LIFE: the Japanese modus operandi is their modus vivendi. And it extends all the way from the CEO that makes the decisions to the worker that tightens the bolt. This non-stop effort is based on and sustained by simple pragmatic precepts that everyone understands. . .

"There is always a better way (of doing things)."
"Build quality into the product and the process."
"Do not inspect quality - create it."
"Do it right the first time."
"Treat the next worker in line as you would a customer."
"All costs are potential profits."
"Excess inventory is waste."

Other companies may know these principles, but the big difference is that the Japanese take them seriously - and make them a "way of life." For example, they have developed smart automated machines that automatically stop a production line whenever they detect a defect. Likewise, workers are trained to solve problems on the spot or press buzzers to seek assistance from others. In this age of high-speed technology, Murphy's Law should be updated to "If anything can go wrong, it already did." So, the Japanese have made sure that (1) nothing goes wrong and (2) nothing can go wrong.

Seven decades ago, Frederick W. Taylor, the father of scientific management, said that it was possible to give the worker what he wants most - high wages - and the employer what he wants - low labor cost. The Japanese have proved that both can be done by endlessly striving for "The Better Way."


 

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