Central Manufacturing Company, a bespoke automobile manufacturer, in 1906 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Machine That Changed The World

I’ve been reading an interesting book called The Machine That Changed the World, tracing auto manufacturing from the hand-crafted era, through Ford’s mass production, and on to Toyota’s lean manufacturing. Toyota’s improvements on mass production enabled them to produce cars with higher quality, shorter development times, and higher profit margins, leading them to dominance in the auto industry by the end of the 1980's.

Even though I work in software development instead of automotive manufacturing, and this book was first published in 1990, I found myself highlighting large swaths of lessons and anecdotes that resonated with the current state of software development.

Many of the key aspects of the Toyota system are the ones that are working for software right now: fix defects immediately, hold regular discussions about improving the process, empower everybody to work as a flexible team. The principles resemble the ones you see in Scrum + continuous delivery.

In a way, it’s about finding the right places to spend effort, and the wrong places to save effort, to yield the best long-term outcomes.

It’s well-written and told somewhat as a story, making it easy to follow. I recommend it highly.