With the International Shingo Prize Conference just a month away, I thought a short post about Shigeo Shingo and the Prize named in his honor would be worthwhile. At the time of Prize’s founding in 1988, Shingo was nearly an unknown in the U.S. His first book translated into English (1969, Japanese Management Association) was hard to understand, reading like a 1960’s instruction manual for a Japan-manufactured product. This was my introduction to Set-up reduction and source inspection (or “prevent-type mistake-proofing) techniques. Shingo’s amazing technical discoveries are credited with making just-in-time possible. Today while Shingo’s original book, the Green Book, is out of print, replaced by a slicker, more readable version, the techniques he first described in English forty years ago, SMED and Poka-Yoke, have become part of our manufacturing lexicon.
But one of Shingo’s most important contributions from the green book is often overlooked or even refuted: The concept of production as a network of process and operation. In this network, process is visualized as the flow of objects of change on one axis, and agents of change on another axis. The agents are the operators and machines that add value. The objects are the various parts that are converted from raw materials to finished goods. For those in healthcare, note that “parts” can be replaced conceptually by “patients’, and “operators” can be replaced by “providers” (e.g. docs, nurses, etc.) In Shigeo Shingo’s world, production does not refer only to manufacturing, but to any process-operation network. The concept of waste is the same, in his words, whether you are “making rice cakes or automobiles.” And where do we find nearly all of this waste? On the process axis — from the view of the part (or patient.) When we speak of “process improvement” we are referring to the process axis of Dr. Shingo’s network.
Unfortunately, traditional thinking postulates otherwise, that process does not exist separate from operation, but is in fact, the sum of many operations. Witness its definition in the latest edition of Meriam-Webster:
pro·cess noun \ˈprä-ˌses, ˈprō-, -səs\: a series of actions or operations conducing to an end; especially : a continuous operation or treatment especially in manufacture
This conventional definition spills over into cost accounting implying that if all operations for a particular process are improved by say 50%, then there will be a 50% process improvement. Consider for example that standard costs are based on roll-ups of operational cost (value-added) plus a large fudge factor based upon average allocation of overhead costs (non-value-added) which, in a circular way, are stated as a multiplier of the value-added time. This is nonsense. Operational times are scrutinized and measured often to four decimal places, while process is essentially invisible in this conventional model. Make versus buy decisions are made by evaluating only a small fraction of total cost. System Efficiency is viewed as a sum over local efficiencies. More nonsense.
The English language can be confounding. Those who prefer Meriam-Webster’s definition of process to Dr. Shingo’s will never gain the benefits of Lean. How important is Shingo’s Network? What do you think? Share a story.
BTW: Looking for another kind of Shingo Network? Come join me and GBMP at the International Shingo Conference in Jacksonville, Florida, April 30-May 4. Hope to see you there.