Management, Japanese style

I had an interesting conversation with a Japanese colleague the other day, regarding the differences between our behaviour in the corporate environment, and theirs. It’s the British way to plan, to some degree, what we do, discuss the plan, refine it, and eventually, after a lot of blather, to start to execute.

It seems the Japanese way is a bit different. Someone up high says “Is this possible?”, and because they’re culturally conditioned never to say “No”, they say “Yes”. “Good,” comes the answer, “Have it done by August.”

The British response would be “There’s no realistic prospect of finishing the design by August, much less procurement, installation, commissioning and handover. March next year if you’re very lucky.” And then the stops would be pulled out and it would get delivered by January.

The Japanese response is “OK.”, and then everyone runs round in circles like headless chickens duplicating work and doing 18 hour days… and the project gets delivered the following May, because of the inefficiencies of the process.

Apparently, the Japanese idea is “think while running”. This is to say, given a task, they start work first, THEN work out what they’re going to do.

I’d love to see an orienteering competition in Japan…

And here’s another. Gantt charts work like this…
Here is today’s date. Here’s the start of the project.
Now we guess how long it will take for:
Development, design, bid document preparation, bidding, selection, detailed design, procurement, installation, commissioning, handover and startup. That gets you an estimated end date. Then you start working out how you can pull the end date so it’s closer to today.

The Japanese do it differently.
Here’s the day we need the product – a day in the future.
Working backwards from there… commissioning, installation, procurement, detailed design, bidding, bid document, design, development… ah. The plan indicates we should have completed the detailed design phase last week… How do we complete the detailed design by the end of this week, given that we don’t even have a developed process or an outline design today?


One Response to “Management, Japanese style”

  1. Aphra Behn Says:


    In the Management Literature it’s referred to as ‘Empowering Middle Management’. No, really.

    Welcome to the blogosphere.


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