Norman Bodek, who sadly left us last week, will no doubt best be remembered for the amazing library he brought us over thirty years ago from Japan: Primary sources like Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo, as well as brilliant consultants like Yashuhiro Monden and Shigihero Nakamura; and professional associations like JUSE, JMA and JHRA. Before it was Lean, Norman delivered Hiroyuki Hirano’s comprehensive JIT Implementation Manual. Tomo Sugiyama’s The Improvement Book is one of my favorite sources for teaching the concept of waste; and Hirano’s JIT Factory Revolution, essentially a picture book of best practices, melds TPS concepts with TPS tools in a way that makes it a great choice for book study groups. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was such a flurry of new releases, that some of these gems may not have made it onto our bookshelves. And unfortunately, some are now out of print.
My discovery of this TPS trove began serendipitously as a footnote in Doc Hall’s Zero Inventories, one of the few books of the time not published by Norman Bodek. The footnote led me to Shingo’s books and from there to Productivity Press, located in a small Cambridge walk-up just a few miles from my plant. There in 1987, I met Norm and his small staff of instructional designers and editors. Before this fledgling publisher, there was just a trickle of references to TPS, all written by faithful western reporters like Robert “Doc” Hall. Norman opened the flood gates. The better-known texts are standards on Lean bookshelves today, but there are so many less well-known treasures like Kohdate and Suzue’s Variety Reduction Process that in 1990 brought lean out of the factory and into product development! Norm’s is a unique publishing legacy from a time of remarkable discovery that I think will never again be matched. Lauded in the business press as the “Godfather of Lean” and “Mr. Productivity”, Norm Bodek, by his own admission, had no experience with manufacturing or TPS. He was not an inventor like many of those with whom he was compared or whose ideas he ushered into the light. Norman was an explorer, a latter-day Marco Polo, with an eye for trends that eluded the rest of us; someone who found the best thinkers, practitioners and authors, and made them accessible outside of Japan.
Perhaps even more remarkable, however, was Norm Bodek’s ability to popularize these discoveries he was publishing. For the 35 years that I had the pleasure of knowing Norman, I fully expected that, at every encounter with him, he would have something new to sell me. He would greet me with a statement like, “Bruce, I have just discovered the most wonderful teacher and you need to let me share this with you.” This was expected; Norm was a promoter, with the enthusiasm of a child and salesmanship of P.T. Barnum. On more than one occasion, he lamented “You know Bruce, I’ve never made any money on these books.” I suspect he probably did okay for himself. In any case, he surely enriched the rest of us.