Tribute to Norm

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. 


‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

For the 2020 Holiday Season, here’s a little Lean levity from the ghost of Christmas past.  Most parents who celebrate the annual visit from Santa will have fond memories of “night before” experiences (a true story) like this:

‘Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through our home,
I was searching for tools
But couldn’t find some.
A Phillips head and an adjustable wrench,
That I thought I’d last seen on my messy workbench.
And likewise an Allen set missing from sight,
Took an hour to find until almost midnight.

The Foosball game had almost one hundred parts,
With an eighteen-page book of instructions and charts,
Part A was to go with Part B and Screw C,
Confusing at best to a novice like me.
Which end was up and which side was right?
I thought to myself, “This will take me all night.”

As I laid it all out on the living room rug,
Mrs. Santa was laughing and gave me hug. 
“You can do it,” she whispered, “there’s plenty time.”
“Can I help you with it?” “NO,” I said, “this job’s mine.”

All through the night I assembled the table,
First building the base and affixing the labels,
And twenty-offensive and defensive players,
As I thought I heard family stirring upstairs.  

After five hours of rework and frustration,
I started to muse on our children’s elation,
When they’d gaze upon Santa’s fantastic creation. 
Just the right thing for playing on Christmas vacation.

As I cleaned up the mess and was turning around,
Down from upstairs came our kids with a bound.
“Just what we wanted!” they cried out with glee.
A memory for Mrs. Santa and me.

“Well,” quipped Mrs. Santa, “His elves are no laggards,”
“Except that the players are all facing backwards.”
Each team was assembled to face its own goal.
A defect, for sure, coming from the North Pole.
Indeed it appeared a mistake had been made. 
But the kids didn’t care, so that’s how it stayed.

Best wishes to all my readers for whatever Holiday you celebrate.  Please stay safe and wear a mask.  Better times are ahead. 


PS Join me tomorrow, Tuesday, December 8, for a free “Tea Time with the Toast Dude Webinar” and a discussion of “Top Line Focus”. While most organization visions are expressed in terms of value to the customer, ultimately actual practice is very heavily slanted to cost-cutting and the bottom line. Please join me from 3PM to 3:45PM EST when I’ll discuss the pitfalls of that approach and suggest a different one to take. Reserve your seat here

First Thanksgiving

Perhaps the adversity of the last nine months has caused me to reflect more often on the goodness that’s hiding all around me even in the face of ugly politics, health and wellness tribulations, and a teetering economy.  There’s just no avoiding it; 2020 has been a year that’s triggered too many negative emotions.  Hardest for me was the loss in August of my younger brother to the pandemic. But I’m resolved that anger is a destructive emotion, so I’ve let it go.  And I’m thankful for getting to that point.  I’m grateful that the rest of my family is intact and now likely to get to the finish line of this scourge; discouraged that science doubters have worsened the pandemic, but very thankful for the science that is bringing vaccines and therapeutics at incredible speed.  And for the many previously invisible and unappreciated persons on the frontline, I’m incredibly grateful: docs, nurses, teachers, police and firefighters, custodians, postal workers, trash collectors, cashiers, essential workers – such a long list –  that have helped us to heal and kept the economy afloat.  I’m so appreciative of the spirit of cooperation among my team members at GBMP and to our customers who have forged ahead, finding new ways to work; in some cases totally pivoting their businesses to help fight the pandemic.   And for the original frontline, our military men and women, thank you for keeping our country secure.  I’m thankful for these many demonstrations of decency and selflessness.  

It’s odd that only one day of the year should be dedicated to being thankful.  And even that day has become the object of dispute and division: a symbol of the Manifest Destiny that was to follow over the next several centuries.  Perhaps the story of a beleaguered congregation of religious outcasts landing on a foreign shore, rescued and nurtured by native Americans is just a myth.  As the story was told, when I was a kid, the man most often heralded for saving this haggard group of immigrants, Chief Squanto, was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe. Squanto himself had been previously captured by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition.  Along the way, he learned to speak fluent English, a fateful blessing for the Mayflower travelers.  On his return home, Squanto discovered that his entire tribe had succumbed to smallpox, a plague rained upon them by European settlers.  Plenty of reason for anger, yet it was Squanto’s empathy and his English skills fortuitously acquired as a slave that created the possibility of a first Thanksgiving.  Sometimes the humanity of a single person can change the trajectory of history.

Maybe it was just a myth, or maybe it’s up to each of us to make it real.  Since last August, a song has been buzzing through my head, summing up my feelings.  I’d like to share for this Thanksgiving.  Give a listen to the lyrics.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and remember – only love can conquer hate.


BTW – Friday is Native American Heritage Day  🙂

Register Today. Learn about Lean & Digital Transformation Tomorrow.

With less than a day before our 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference, here’s a tally of attendees and what’s in store.

As of last night there were more than 200 registrations from 23 states and four countries. Eighty different organizations are participating, thirty of them are sending teams.   Here’s a rough demographic breakdown of attendees so far. 

Because we’re virtual this year, there are more opportunities to connect with a broad range of industries, from metal working to pharma and healthcare to aerospace and government.  And with everyone, from the frontline to the corner office. 

In addition to three exciting keynotes, you can actively participate in ten breakouts from Lean and IoT practitioners.  And, whatever you are not able to catch first time around will be available to you for 12 months.

Join in the lunch lobby chat and at the Community of Lean Lounge each day.  Or meet up face to face at end of day one at “Lean Before Dark” to share ideas, catch up with old friends and make some new contacts.

Treat yourself.  Only $345 for two days of thought-provoking engagement.  You can register here, and also receive a one- month free subscription to LEANFLIX. 

Hope to see you


IoT, Industry 4.0 & 21st Century Lean

Just two days to go before our 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference, an opportunity for all of us to put aside the tactical realities of Covid-19 and think more strategically about the future of society.  Our theme this year, 21st Century Lean, deals with the humanistic application of technology, in particular information technology, in the coming decades.  Concepts like the Internet of Things (IoT, coined in 1999) and Industry 4.0 (first referenced in 2011) are rapidly moving to center stage.  The goals of each are laudable:

  • IoT is the network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and perhaps even humans -embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity- that enable these to collect and exchange data.  This capability could support a worldwide Utopia of sharing, innovation and best use of scarce resources; but it could also support a dystopic world such as that painted in George Orwell’s 1984.  When Orwell’s book was published in 1949, IoT was entirely science fiction.  Today it’s approaching science fact, making the questions he raised 70 years ago urgent.
  • Industry 4.0 is more narrowly defined as a network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity- that enable these objects to collect and exchange data. The expressed goal here is to accommodate an anticipated shortage of human workers in the coming decades. Population studies suggest rapid population growth for the remainder of this century to perhaps 10 billion people, but thereafter a sharp decline.  And in some more industrialized countries, a shortage of labor already exists.  As with IoT, the impact of Industry 4.0 may be viewed as yet another advancement in productivity and quality; and like IoT, it’s knocking on our doorsteps.  It’s no longer science fiction as noted in a 1964 episode of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.  Here is a link to a 90 second clip, from “The Brain Center at Whipple’s,” but for those of you with Netflix, I recommend the full 30-minute version. 

So where does Lean fit into these strategies?  Must we adapt some of the thinking to new technology?  A client of mine, for example, once asked “If Mr. Shingo were alive today, with all of the automation we have, would he have invented mistake-proofing?”   Or are the principles and concepts of Lean more important than ever before to help us reign in our impulses; to aim for, as my teacher, Hajime Oba once said “what we should do, not what we can do.”   In 2003, speaking at SME’s Eastec Exhibit in Springfield, Mass, Mr. Oba was asked, “Why do American manufacturers get so little benefit from TPS?”  Mr. Oba responded without hesitation, “First, management does not understand TPS and second they are focused only on quarterly earnings.”   Did Mr. Oba have Mr. Whipple in mind?

Here is my 10th and final Lean Peeve before the conference: short-term thinking.  It’s not too late to invest in a little strategic thinking about this critical and now urgent idea of harmonizing the best of Lean Transformation and Digital Transformation.  Take a couple days to stop worrying about what’s going to happen the next month. Give yourself a break, and join our discussion about where our world is headed for next century.  Hope to see you at the conference.