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Samuel Obara

Sammy Obara: Transparency allows for better productivity (and can be stressful)

By Samuel Obara, - Last updated: Monday, April 15, 2013 - Save & Share - Leave a comment
The same way we have different ways to handle manufacturing scenarios: slow or high mix, low or high volume, custom or standard products, etc, etc… I think there are some distinctions when we talk about office environments.  There are those transactional standard procedures with limited variations, such as the one a postal service clerk would have at the counter.  There are those that can require a lot more decision making and unpredictable resources, perhaps as in mortgage banking.  There are those of knowledge creation, which may seem one of the most difficult to measure, maybe similar to engineering or artistic work.
When I started with Toyota as an intern in the prototype engineering division, my productivity was measured by how many A4 (8.5×11″) sheets I would draw every week.  An example:  a small bolt would take me an A4 sheet to draw, a larger chassis part would take me an A0 to draw, A0 means 16 times an A4.  Of course nobody would choose to draw a bolt on an A0, and if they did, their attempt to boost productivity numbers would get “caught” really fast (not that I tried it).   Engineers downstream had to design the tools and jigs so that part could be machined, stamped, welded, etc.  They too, had the same type of productivity metrics, number of A4s.
My direct boss, a senior engineer was measured by how many of those drawings he could check and approve, on top of his other many tasks.  What that did to our leaders was it gave them the ability to balance our work.  To me, it just showed I had some pace to keep.  E.g.: I couldn’t have clocked in “X” hours without having produced “Y” A4s.  It gives everyone the visibility of capacity, deviation, problems, workload, balance, etc.
Today, being exposed to other companies, I think I understand why Toyota only hired engineers with no prior working experience.  Probably people from other employment conditions would feel over controlled when measured by number of pages they can create.  I am not sure most would accept that type of tight control.
Funny thing is that in 13 years of Toyota employment, I never saw one of us being laid off, even when sales were poor.  If the transparency in the office forced us to be productive (or self aware at a minimum), at least that stress seemed to have allowed the company to survive the bad times, and keep us all employed.
The mental model as I see it, is that transparency allows for better productivity (at a cost of much stress, can’t hide that).  The opposite model is that we can postpone transparency – of problems, productivity, -as much as we can, but then losing competitiveness may mean losing a job, which may mean tough stress that can be prolonged in time and extended to family members.
With the high employee turn over rate becoming more of the norm today, perhaps we will need to adjust the mental models that worked in the past.

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