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Mechanism & System


Mechanism & System


As I implemented the "Toyota Production SYSTEM," I recognized my mistake.


Do we have the same view about the word "SYSTEM"?

Do I understand how Taiichi Ohno used the word "SYSTEM"?

I started to ask these questions when I noticed something. Ohno used two Japanese words, "Sikumi 【仕組み】" and "Housiki【方式】." Both were translated as a system. I used both words without much attention. But I recalled Ohno & Toyota are "Mechanical engineers." In Japanese mechanical engineering, "Shikumi" means "Mechanism."


There are many views on "SYSTEM."


For some, system = information technology. This is not our view. Information technology is an integral part of the system but not equal. What is more important is the people. Information technology should support the people, not the other way around. Very often, I observe people and managers juggling orders. It doesn't matter what ⃝⃝P system you are using, they spend all day supporting the information system. Where are the standards for changing orders? Do we follow any of those rules? The most likely answer is no.

On the other hand, I have worked with many Toyota suppliers. I asked what the most significant difference is, and the answer is always stable orders. One plant manager joked, "We are connected with Kanban, but we don't need Kanban because the orders are so stable." (My coach begged to use Kanban. He didn't understand the joke.) These factories will show us the Kanban rules, which are highly standardized. When they explain the planning process, it is standardized, regulated, and respected. "Flexibility" is not chaos. "Flexibility" is a process to follow.

I am not trying to highlight the different tools they use. It is the difference in the view of "System." One looks pretty sophisticated yet has many "loopholes." Where this "Freedom" exists becomes very unclear, resulting in chaotic conditions. On the other hand, one has strict rules on everything, from standardized work to Kanban rules. Yet, it is flexible and adaptable, as Dr. Bowen and Dr. Spear described in "Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System."


Then I noticed these two words, "Sikumi 【仕組み】" and "Housiki【方式】," that I understood as "system." But when I learned that Japanese mechanical engineering used Shikumi = Mechanism, I started to distinguish these two words as follows;

  • Shikumi 【仕組み】= Mechanism

  • Housiki 【方式】= System

"Mechanism" is highly specified, strict, standardized, and technical. I imagine the engine in which each component is designed and manufactured to tight tolerances. TPS uses the word "Shikumi" as a trigger (Kanban rules) or manufacturing mechanism. "System" has a degree of freedom compared to the mechanism. It is not totally free. They used Kanban (Production planning) or Toyota Production System.


"Mechanism + System" is not such a unique view. It is common sense. But in today's manufacturing and operations, we observe many one-sided views. A machine without a maintenance system is destined to fail. On the other hand, work without standardization will also fail. A balanced view of the mechanism and system is the foundation of TPS. It's just that the mechanism dominates a much more significant portion. By doing this, the freedom to deal with chaos inside the system is less. The system is far more strategic.

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