It’s been a year since my father, Hajime Oba has passed away.
One of the most surprising comments I heard this year was that Hajime Oba was not a Genba guy.
After working with him on the shop floor for twenty years, that was quite a surprise. Even after traveling 24 hours to a plant, even the host offers some time to rest at the hotel; he always went to the Genba first (later crushed) and loved it. People who directly worked with him will also be surprised to hear such comments.
This misunderstanding was created since the organization he created, Toyota Supplier Support Center (TSSC), did many seminars about Toyota Production System. Why? Hajime Oba started TSSC in 1992. The most significant economic issue was the trade deficit between the USA & Japan. 41st president, Bush, came to Japan and fainted. But his message was clear. The Japanese automobile industry needs to take action, not just exporting from Japan. At that time, Toyota only operated few plants in North America (NUMMI, Georgetown, and Canada). This belief was that the Yen is cheap and, therefore, competitive ($1 was about ¥123). Under such conditions, Toyota assigned Hajime to explain and promote TPS.
What were his choices? He and his team decided to held seminars about TPS. But I don’t think they had those seminars without conflicts. My father shared one of the complaints, and that was “Missing (or not enough) good wine.” But that was the truth. "Lean" or "TPS" wasn't popular as it is today.
Few people reacted differently. They started inviting him to their shop floor. When that happened, he was having fun, and the real learning was happening at the site. Things like the “Hairdryer” Kaizens started to happen. More and more people began to practice TPS.
When he decided to retire from Toyota, his passion for Kaizen and the shop floor made him continue implementing TPS. But he decided that he will focus on shop floor coaching. This idea was generated because he thought that was how he grew up in Toyota. This idea also grew from interaction with Dr. Kent Bowen. My father and I had several opportunities to join the “Toyota case” done by Dr. Bowen. Although it is the same case, every time we enter, we learned something unique. Our thought was that how to do such a “case study” on the shop floor? How to question on the shop floor so that the participants discover some of the TPS concepts? Our new challenge started. Although we have lots to do to improve this concept, we felt this is the right way.
What turned out to be his final workshop was done under such a method. He made his classic joke, “My name is Hajime Oba. Maybe you know me.” (Somehow, he wins few touches of laughter.) Within few minutes, we went to the shop floor. Based on observations, we discuss what is necessary to improve. Implement some improvements. Then have some discussions regarding the thinking behind it.
Since only two of us were coaches, we decided to split the group into two teams. Immediately, we started a “nasty” competition. Don’t get me wrong. The participants were earnest. We, coaches, were childishly exchanging comments behind the scene. “Look, my team did more Kaizen than yours.” “Ha, my team had more impact.” The exchange went on.
On the final day, each team was presenting their progress to the management. It was going well. During my father’s team’s presentation, he came to me.
Hajime; “Did you see my team’s report out?”
Hajime; “Did you see how the operator was explaining the Kaizen enthusiastically?”
Hajime; “I won.”
And he walked away.