Which model for the labor-intensive production of standardized products — the Japanese production model represented by NUMMI or the holistic alternative represented by Uddevalla — is really the best organizational design to support learning? The author revisits Paul Adler and Robert Cole’s article from the Spring 1993 issue of Sloan Management Review and presents his own side of the debate. Adler and Cole’s rejoinder appears at the end of the article.
1. Much of the same argument has been presented before. See:
P. Adler, “The ‘Learning Bureaucracy’: New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.,” ed. Barry Staw and Larry Cummings, Research in Organizational Behavior (Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI Press, 1992); and
P. Adler, “Time-and-Motion Regained,” Harvard Business Review, January–February 1993, pp. 97–108.
2. J.P. Womack, D.T. Jones, and D. Roos, The Machine That Changed the World (New York: Rawson Associates/MacMillan, 1990).
3. For a detailed analysis of the reasons for the closing and the corporate politics that influenced this decision, see:
C. Berggren and R. Rehder, “Uddevalla and Saturn: The Quest for Competitive and Humanistic Organization,” The International Executive, forthcoming.
4. Womack et al. (1990).
5. K. Williams, C. Haslam, J. Williams, and T. Cutler, “Against Lean Production,” Economy and Society 21 (1992): 321–354.
6. As reported by B. Karlsson at a doctoral seminar at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, 7 February 1991.
7. Williams et al. (1992).
8. I gathered the facts and figures presented in this article as part of a comprehensive evaluation of Volvo’s small-scale plants, conducted from December 1992 to May 1993. See:
C. Berggren, “Excellence or Nightmare? An Evaluation of Volvo’s Small-Scale Plants” (Stockhom, Sweden: Royal Institute of Technology, mimeo, 1993).
9. The monthly J.D. Power figures are not statistically significant because of the low number of cars surveyed. The trend is consistent with internal Volvo audits, however.
10. At all stations except the top (in which 100 percent of the time is used), there are micropauses of unused time. Balancing losses tend to increase with shorter work cycles because it becomes ever harder to achieve an even division of tasks. One specific type of balancing loss, variant losses, increases with growing product variation. See:
R. Wild, “On the Selection of Mass Production Systems,” International Journal of Production Research 5 (1975); and
C. Berggren, Alternatives to Lean Production: Work Organization in the Swedish Auto Industry (Ithaca, New York: ILR Press, 1992).
11. M. Nomura, “Farewell to ‘Toyotism’? Recent Trend of a Japanese Automobile Company” (Okayama, Japan: Okayama University, Department of Economics, mimeo, 1992).
12. A comparison with two much less successful unionized Japanese transplants, Mazda/AutoAlliance in Flat Rock, Michigan, and GM/Suzuki in Ingersoll, Ontario, is enough to highlight this point. Both plants subscribe to the same concepts of production control and work design as NUMMI, but the outcome is very different. When I visited AutoAlliance in May 1993, a human resource manager told me that they had “a very unhappy workforce,” and that he expected and hoped that Ford would take charge and get the plant on track again. See:
L. Babson, “Lean or Mean: The MIT Model and Lean Production at Mazda,” Labor Studies Journal 18 (1993): 3–24.
13. According to M. Nomura, “Ohno [Toyota vice president] named this [Toyota’s] improvement system an ‘embarassing system,’ which means the system continuously embarrasses production managers and supervisors.” See:
Nomura (1992), p. 17.
14. The principles are discussed in detail in:
K. Ellegård, T. Engström, and L. Nilsson, Reforming Industrial Work — Principles and Realities in the Planning of Volvo’s Car Assembly Plant in Uddevalla (Stockholm, Sweden: The Swedish Work Environment Fund, 1993).
15. Interview with deputy head of the production engineering department, Mitsubishi plant, Mizushima, Japan, 18 October 1993.
16. See M. Nomura, “Skills and Division of Labor: Japanese Companies and Taylorism” (Tokyo, Japan: Ochanomizu Shobo, 1993); and
M. Nomura, “Toyotism: Maturity and Metamorphosis of a Japanese Automobile Company” (Kyoto, Japan: Minerva Shobo, 1993).
17. C. Walker and R. Guest, The Man on the Assembly Line (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1952).
18. H. Shimada, “Japan’s Changing Labor Market,” Journal of Japanese Trade & Industry 4 (1991): 8–11.