In their book, Johnson and Bröms tell a story about a meeting between the executives of Ford and Toyota in 1982. When the Americans visited Japan to find out how Toyota could produce better quality at lower cost, they were astonished to receive the response, ‘We learned it from you.’

Before building manufacturing facilities in Japan, the Japanese had studied American plants. In particular, Ohno spent time at Ford’s Highland Park plant. Built during World War I Highland Park produced 15 million model-T Fords by 1927 with remarkable efficiency.

Highland Park was the original mass-production system. When Ohno studied the plant, what he instantly perceived was flow — simple, standardised and unchanging. As each car rolled off the line it represented to him a ‘heartbeat’ that dictated how everything moved (was ‘pulled’) through the system. Ohno put that principle to work throughout the Toyota Production System.