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Thursday, September 21, 2006


jon livesey

Twice recently I have had engineering jobs that brought me into close contact with Japanese personnel. Once it was a Japanese customer, and more recently a Japanese engineering partner. In both cases I found that I was less than awed by individual Japanese contributors. The Japanese team-working style can support and conceal less than stellar individual performance. Japanese low-level managers, on the other hand, are very good, mainly by being extremely persistent. Japanese test labs question everything, demanding explanations for unexpected equipment over-performance as well as under-performance. At the end of the day, a Japanese customer or partner understands everything in detail. The concept of "close enough" doesn't seem to exist for them. Of course, this isn't magic, but a model that anyone sufficiently motivated can copy, so the Japanese are right to be worried.

Arthur Eckart

Japan's economy has greatly improved since the '60s, when it was known for producing a lot of junk. In the '80s, many believed Japan was on the verge of overtaking the U.S. economy. Of course, Japan subsequently had a 15-year period of slow or negative growth, and the Tokyo Nikkei average is still less than half where it was in the late '80s (after losing over 80% from '89 to '03!). It seems, Japan protects a lot of unecessary jobs, which are paid for by Japanese consumers. Nonetheless, although there are many economic policy differences between countries, specialization has been a big net benefit, for the global economy.


"The fingers have no main culprit to point to. "

Here's my culprit: Engineering complexity.

As products get more complex in their engineering functionality, they also get more difficult to manufacture at a consistently high level of "zero defects".

In 1950 W. Edwards Deming was called upon by the American government and then a Japanese association of scientists and engineers to deliver several seminars on quality control. At least one was given to top Japanese management. These were the seeds planted that gave birth to today’s strict ethic of quality control in Japanese manufacturing.

It is, indeed, a national ethic and manifests itself in many ways in Japan, not just manufacturing, but in the manner that it suits a collectivist society that bends easily to rigid precepts.

It is therefore entirely possible that, as engineering complexity accelerates along with short-cycle changes in product innovation, that the manner in which QC is enacted/conducted is having an affect on its accuracy. Quality control is not a framework that is installed in product manufacturing and delivers consistently good results from the start. It needs to be tweaked until it arrives at the desired level, which often takes time along the “learning curve”.

Maybe the time necessary is no longer there, as management insists on the brevity of “time to market” – another western management dictate making headway in Japanese industry.

Air Jordan shoes

The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything --- or nothing.

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