Sunday, 25 November 2012

Ikea style the Toyota way

It’s so passé to build up stocks of goods long before you need them. These days, ‘Just In Time’ – the Toyota way – is very much the holy Grail of production techniques. So I was delighted to live by Toyota principles this weekend.

At Christmas, we’re being joined by a relatively large number of friends and relatives. Actually, they
’re all relatives if we count out-laws as well as in-laws, and I very much do: the company will include one of my charming daughters-out-law and her parents.

The only problem is that there isn
’t enough space around the table kindly passed to me by my mother. A beautiful piece of teak from the days before we knew not to use tropical hardwood for furniture. But it really only seats six and we’re likely to be seven or eight.

So we needed a new table. It was therefore opportune that old friends from Edinburgh came to see us this weekend, and were joined by other friends, and sons, and partners.

That focused the mind. The call of Ikea came loud and clear, and we answered it yesterday. This morning we had set to work to put the table together. Not too early, given that we’d had a few drinks yesterday evening: we started at 11:30 and the meal was due to be served at 1:00.

Just in time production became not so much desirable as absolutely essential.

And we knew it could easily turn into just too late.

Those watching us were openly sceptical.

‘It’ll never be done in time.’

‘Should I ring the others and tell them to come later?’

The amazing thing about assembling Ikea furniture is that, like tying a bow tie, the magic only happens at the end. Have you ever tried tying a bow tie? You pass one end round the other, you make a bow, you loop round it and suddenly you’re faced with a final tuck-and-tighten and it’s perfectly obvious that no knot is going to form. Then you do it and – lo and behold – the miracle occurs and a beautifully formed bow knot appears.

So it was with the Ikea table. At 12:50, what we had was a nondescript wooden framework with various protruding bits which didn’t seem designed to fit with anything else. Most suspicious of all, we had four dowelling rods left with nowhere to put them. Had they supplied too many? Had we fitted too few? Would the whole thing fail to form or, worse still, fall apart as soon as the meal was placed on it?

The ambient scepticism level was palpably growing.

But we persevered. My friend Hakim voiced the unfortunate question, ‘why don’t you hold, this time, while I screw?’, but fortunately the Ikea context was obvious to anyone who glanced up, shocked, to see what we were talking about.

A few more washers and bolts, and we were ready to turn the thing over from where it was lying, top down, on the floor. As it came upright it was revealed to be – slightly astonishingly even though it was what we’d been aiming at – a table. We pulled the two ends apart and inserted a leaf and, hey presto, the trick was done: we could sit nine to eat the fabulous Tajine Danielle had prepared (in both a meat and vegetarian version, to accommodate all tastes), followed by the excellent cheesecake brought by Brenda, one of our guests.

And Brenda knocked on the door just as we secured the table leaf in place. OK, so it was 1:03, but since our aim was to complete as she arrived, I regard that as Just In Time and not an instant too late.

The table that provided much pleasure this afternoon.
And it was ready just in time.

So we enjoyed a great meal in congenial company. And provided a striking vindication of the Toyota way.

As for Christmas – we’re ready with positively weeks to spare.


Leonard Beeson said...

Thank god you didn't go the Apple way, or lunch would have ended with you and Hakim jumping off the roof.

Anonymous said...

I think you're taking too much credit here! The actual process started well before 12.50.
But yes, it was a very congenial atmosphere with great food and plenty of laughter.
I am making an exception by writing this comment knowing the torment I'm going to go through proving I'm not a robot.

Attempt 1,2Pregrtta