Lean Blog Interviews — 397: Hide Oba Discusses His Father, Toyota’s Hajime Oba

TPS / Lean Consultant based in NYC


Joining me for Episode #397 is Hide Oba. His father was the late Hajime Oba, famous for his work at Toyota and the TSSC, as Steve Spear and I discussed back in Episode #386.

Hide worked with his father at TSSC and also worked with him through the company H&M Operations Management, LLC. He is based in New York City. He says that his mission is to continue spreading his father’s wisdom and I appreciate him doing so here with me on the podcast.

I asked Hide to summarize his father’s life and work and he then talks about some of the unique aspects of his approach.

“Going to the shop floor was fun… his hobby.”

Hide tells a story about his father telling Bruce Hamilton, “You should do Kaizen, too,” and you can read Bruce’s side of the story here.

We discuss the balance between asking questions versus pointing people in a direction. Hide says Hajime “never asked people what they should do,” but he asked questions based on his vision.

Hajime saw TPS as “management engineering” — being very scientific about creating the right structure that allows you to create a kaizen culture. Hajime was also “careful” about the word “scientific” as it is meant to mean “continuous discovery and learning… understanding why.” Hide says his father was “addicted to learning.” Hajime aimed to always learn from the client.

From the new 2nd edition of The Toyota Way (an interview with Jeff Liker about that is coming soon, by the way):

“Oba said “TPS is built on the scientific way of thinking… How do I respond to this problem? Not a toolbox. You have to be willing to start small, learn through trial and error.”

Hide also talks about how his father visited hospitals in Pittsburgh via Kent Bowen and Paul O’Neill.

We also talk about why others have struggled to copy or emulate Toyota. “Stick to Ohno,” says Hide. Solve problems one at at instead of having a big program. He “never asked a company to start by creating a Lean / CI office, sitting and making presentations.” Hajime said the plant manager is the key person, and he would say,

“Come with me and let’s go through the process together.”

Why does the idea of “challenge” not mean “asking people to do things that are impossible?” Why did he “hate giving a format for problem solving?”

We discuss all of that and the idea of “respect for people.” Hide says he father taught that we should “respect humanity” — human life is limited and we shouldn’t waste it… that’s why we do kaizen. He also “saw a lot of waste in his final days” in the hospital.

I’m very thankful that Hide can keep his father’s work and legacy alive for all of us.

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