Tag Archives: shigeo shingo

Tools or Culture?

With our annual Northeast LEAN Conference just a few days away, I want to relate a personal story about the theme of this year’s conference,

The Integration of Tools & Culture:

The first two books I ever read about Lean were Zero Inventories by Robert Hall and Japanese Manufacturing Techniques by Richard Schonberger.  In 1985, these definitive academic works were among just a few sources of information about what was then referred to as Just-In-Time, or JIT for short.   As I was just starting to manage a factory at that time with inventory turns of less than one (really), these JIT “how to” books seemed like the solution to my problems.    I owe Hall and Schonberger a debt of gratitude for their early reports about technical aspects of Toyota’s incredible improvement system.  But, for me, the single most important shred of information from these academic texts was a footnote in Hall’s book that referred to a then unknown industrialist by the name of Shigeo Shingo.  Hall cited Shingo’s book, A Study of the Toyota Production System: From an Industrial Engineering Viewpoint.  This book presented the technical aspects of Lean in a context of revolutionary concepts and principles.  The original 1982 version was a crude translation from the Japanese, but reading it created a sense of excitement about a wholly new way of thinking about work.   To be sure, Shingo’s explanation of tools echoed reports from Hall and Schonberger, but as one of the key inventors of TPS, Shingo shared a deep understanding that was grounded in unique personal experience and wisdom of a creator.  While he is most often remembered for introducing technical concepts like quick changeover and mistake-proofing, Shingo’s greatest contribution to my learning was in providing an integrated image of TPS, a system that was both technical and social science – tools and culture.  One could not exist without the other.  Beyond that, he conveyed his personal struggles to overcome what he referred as “conceptual blind spots” of his clients, Toyota among them.  He gave us the Law as well as the Gospel:  Lean is an immense opportunity but equally a daunting challenge to rise above status quo thinking.  “Keep an open mind,” he reminded us.  According to Mr. Shingo, management’s #1 job was “volition,” i.e., a passionate commitment to creating an environment that favored improvement. These were lessons that supported my organization and me as we learned new tools and unlearned old concepts at the same time.

Today I’m often asked, “What do we work on first, tools or culture?”   I answer, in context of the Toyota Production System, neither has substance without the other.  They are two sides of the same coin. We need to learn them together.   Our 2017 Northeast Lean Conference is dedicated to reinforcing that message.   Lean tools are essential as means for improvement; Lean culture is essential to enable us to see beyond the status quo. If you haven’t already registered, here’s a link with more information:


Hope we see you next week in Worcester, MA for a couple of energizing, informing and inspiring days.


Reflecting on Waste

For me, Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo are a bit like the Lennon and McCartney of waste elimination. Together they frame the technical and social sciences of what we call Lean today.

Taiichi Ohno tells us there are seven wastes that account for 95% of the elapsed time between “paying and getting paid.”  Most Lean students utilize an acronym like TIMWOODS as a mnemonic to help them remember each of the seven. Many, however, are seven waste parrots. They can repeat the wastes, but don’t have a deep understanding of their significance.

These wastes, according to Shigeo Shingo are measurable impediments to flow, if we only can see them. Much of Shingo’s writing deals with unmasking waste, hidden from us by our “conceptual blind spots.”  Shingo declares, “The most dangerous waste is the waste we do not recognize.” Wastes like MOTION, masquerade as work until we understand that breaking a sweat searching for a missing tool is not really work but something that gets the way of the work and flow of value to the customer. “Elimination of waste,” Shingo declares, “is not the problem. Identification of waste is the problem.”

Students of Lean are advised by Shingo that OVERPRODUCTION, producing more than is needed or producing too soon, is the worst of the seven wastes because it causes more of the other the other six wastes – more inventory, more transport, more waiting, more defects, more waiting and more processing.

Then Shingo adds an 8th waste, unmeasurable in an industrial engineering sense, but nevertheless according to Shingo, worse than all of the first seven wastes: Loss of creativity. Management’s failure to recognize the brilliance and experience of their employees places an insurmountable constraint on the identification and elimination of waste.

Ohno exhorts managers to “go to the Gemba” in order to see the waste and show support for employees.  He is not referring to visiting the floor only to review huddle boards: “People who can’t understand numbers are useless. The Gemba where numbers are not visible is also bad. However, people who only look at the numbers are the worst of all.“

Shingo says, “Any reasonable person will try to remove waste if he or she can see it.” On this one point, I must disagree with Dr. Shingo. On a daily basis, in my work, I visit the workplace with operating managers where we observe together waste in its many forms.  When we reach out to employees, they share problems and struggles with us, wastes that prevent them from doing their best.  But when I return to these sites, even after weeks have elapsed, the waste that employees have shown us often remains. So I’ll add a corollary to the worst and most dangerous wastes:  “The most demoralizing waste is the waste that managers DO see in the Gemba and yet do nothing about.”



Most often when we think of a wheel, it’s in the context of transportation, one of the more obvious and ever-present of the 7 wastes.   In fact, the first likely use of a wheel and axle was not for transport but for processing – actual work.  According to the Smithsonian, the potter’s wheel dates to 3500 BC.  The wheel and axle wasn’t used for human transport (chariot) for several hundred more years; and the idea of carting material apparently took several millennia after that!  The wheelbarrow was invented around 100 AD in China, and it took another thousand years more for it to appear in Europe.

cartwheelsFrom a human standpoint these conveyance devices are designed to reduce strain.  In a technical sense, it can be said they multiply our capability to do work; at least the force-times-distance kind of work: W= f x d.   Problem is, that although conveying material on wheels is embedded in our thinking as an improvement over manual transport it’s actually a mechanization of waste.  We may think the wheel has multiplied our ability to do work, but it really has multiplied the amount of waste we can create.  Odd.

Over the centuries additional wheels were added to the basic cart, enabling conveyance of even more material with less work [sic] in a single trip. Then, in 1936, the invention of the shopping cart at Humpty Dumpty supermarkets became the prototype for more recent improvements to conveyance:  A four-wheel, multi-level steel wire cart, this invention replaced a hand-carried basket, enabling shoppers to gather all groceries in a single pass.  The shopping cart, however, also required wider aisles and larger checkout counters.   Then the aisles were widened again, this time to accommodate pallet loading of the larger amounts of material needed to accommodate a new concept: EOQ.   Why buy just a little, when you can have so much more in an economy pack? Carriages became larger still to accommodate bulk quantity shopping.  All of these innovations were intended to make it easier for the customer to buy more – and, of course, to encourage them to buy more.

There are more than a few parallels in industry.  AVG’s, pallet jacks, forklifts, and conveyors are all “improvements” on the basic cart.  These machines typically require wider aisles, deeper and higher shelving, new training, and maintenance and, of course, more space to park the machines – kind of like the tail wagging the dog. Too often, rather than rethinking the cause of the waste, we automate around it.  Shigeo Shingo referred to these as “superficial improvements.”  An automatic guided vehicle (AGV) mechanizes the waste of transportation; or an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) facilitates the waste of storage.  Worker strain may be reduced by a superficial improvement, but the actual waste remains and sometimes even increases.  A stockroom manager, for example, lamented to me recently “I have less people now, but it takes longer to kit a job than when we did it manually.  The machine is a bottleneck and the factory waits for parts.”  Unfortunately, these expensive superficial improvements become sunk costs, hard to undo because they are depreciable assets. Thank you, management accounting.

One more insidious re-invention of the wheel is the stationery or almost-stationery wheel.  To the casual observer, these are the wheels that are on the cart that appears as if it’s for transportation; actually, that cart never moves except to move it out of the way.  Moveable storage becomes an option when material staged in front of a process has overflowed to a point that it must be staged in the aisles; funny that this is called “work in process.”  Of all uses or abuses of the wheel, this one is tops on my personal list: the appearance of conveyance.  We assume that if there is a wheel, then there must be movement.  Mr. Shingo’s comment that the “The worst waste is the one we cannot see” comes to mind.

Here is an improvement exercise for you to try in your own facility:  First take an inventory of carts and answer these questions:

  • What is the total number of carts?
  • What is the total floor space they occupy?
  • How many are actually used for conveyance?
  • How many are really only for storage or are kept on hand in case of storage overflow?
  • How can you reduce each of these numbers by half?

Please let me know how much production space you liberate.


PS GBMP, a licensed affiliate of the Shingo Insitute, is offering the following workshops in the coming months. The courses introduce the Shingo Model™ and Guiding Principles on which to anchor your current continuous improvement initiatives and to fill the gaps in your efforts towards ideal results and enterprise excellence. Consider joining us at an event near you soon. To read more and register visit http://www.gbmp.org/shingo-institute-courses.html

Here are a few testimonials from happy participants, followed by the schedule.

“Discovering Shingo with such a dedicated instructor helped our team gain a better understanding The Shingo Model. The workshops were engaging and we all came out of the classes with a much better idea of what we need to do as a company to continue to grow.

“The instructor made us feel that we were really learning from each other. When we were broken up into groups, he was always nearby and available to facilitate, but didn’t hover or impose his viewpoints – we came to our own conclusions as a group – and he was generous in his recognition of others’ input and viewpoints. 

“The Discover Excellence workshop was great. It challenged us to think differently. Going to Gemba at the host site was fantastic. I like that our instructor took part in the Gemba walks as a participant. We were all learning together and challenging each other’s assumptions or understandings of model, which in turn led to a much deeper understanding. 



One of Shigeo Shingo’s popular status quo targets was engineers, whom he placed in three categories:

  • Table engineers—those who just sit around a table and talk about problems
  • Catalog engineers—those who think the solution to every problem can be found in a catalog
  • Nyet engineers—those who say no to every request. (Nyet is Russian for “no.”)

On one rare occasion, I heard Shingo retell his engineer category story in the presence of my company’s CEO, Bob R., who was himself an engineer. Bob bristled in response, “I’m a can-do engineer!”  While I’m not a big fan of stereotypes, I smiled at Bob’s retort.   I think Shingo made jibes to shock people, in this case our CEO, into consciousness.

doormatsSimilarly, another teacher, Ryuji Fukuda, once commented, “Engineers should polish their brains, not their shoes.” Dr. Fukuda offered the comment as light humor, but I recall a couple engineers in our group did not see the humor. “I feel like a doormat,” one engineer said to me.  When things go wrong, production just blames us”.

Full disclosure: I am not an engineer and I might on occasion have been one of those production folks who walked all over engineering. While the same barbs slung by Shingo and Fukuda could just as easily be directed at other occupations, in TPS lore the role of engineers seems to be more critical.   Engineers play such pivotal roles in a company’s success that the need for them to be involved in continuous improvement is that much greater than other occupations.   If their work is not done ‘right the first time,’ internal as well as external customers are adversely impacted.   DFA proponents, Boothroyd and Dewhurst for example, point out that every assembly fixture is essentially a workaround for a design that did not adequately consider the folks who do the assembly.  And Shingo noted that the best way to avoid production mistakes is to design them out before the product is released to production.

So why aren’t these things considered before product launch and why do problems take so long to be fixed after launch?  Perhaps the answer to these questions is that engineers are subject to the same cockamamie rules as production.  Here is a short list:

  • Engineers typically have far too much work in process. Studies have demonstrated that two projects at once is an ideal number for a design engineer, yet most designers have many more.
  • Engineers are not typically rewarded for OPD (other people’s designs), which creates pointless complexity: redesigning the wheel.
  • Fixing problems with existing designs is seen to be far less important than creating new designs. Engineers are not encouraged to get into ‘old plumbing.’
  • Design tools make seemingly simple changes arduous.
  • Cost accounting provides no encouragement for engineers to design for assembly or maintenance or test-ability or ease of changeover. Only functional cost is considered important.
  • Most engineering departments are function cloisters of cubicles that limit information flow between engineers in the same way that is often seen in production. Preston Smith, author of The Principles of Product Development Flow, quips, “Communication between engineers is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.”

Can you think of any other “rules” that impede engineers?  Please share them.

When Edward’s Deming commented that 95% of an organization’s performance problems are caused by systems, he clearly was not referring only to production.   On the positive side, engineering departments that are able to break through status quo rules are creating huge competitive advantage for their organizations.  Those who cannot break through however will regrettably continue to be doormats. 



Lean By Doing

Early along, as a student of the Toyota Production System (TPS), now referred to as “Lean,” I struggled with some of the concepts and systems.  For example, Shigeo Shingo’s claim that a four-hour machine setup could be reduced to less than ten minutes made me a skeptic.

“Perhaps,” I thought, “when Mr. Shingo talked about SMED, single minute exchange of dies, he was referring only to machinery in which the changeover involved die changes.  CNC Lathes were different, I rationalized; no chance for single minute changeover there.”

I kept these doubts to myself although I believe the machine operators had similar doubts. We’d made modest setup improvements, but nothing like Shingo was suggesting.  Anything beyond low-hanging fruit took us too far out of our comfort zone.

In 1996 however, when a consultant from TSSC, a division of Toyota, began working with us, it quickly became apparent to me through her questioning that our doubts arose from ‘conceptual blind spots’ developed through old setup practices.  These were preventing us from seeing a multitude of improvement opportunities.  With some priming from our consultant, we found waste in areas where, as Mr. Shingo would say, “it was thought not to exist.”   Under the guidance of our TSSC consultant, our well-ingrained existing frameworks for analyzing problems were gradually un-learned as part of our Lean learning.

leanbydoingimageOur consultant, who had no special technical expertise with CNC equipment, nevertheless brought a conceptual framework to the table that turned our skepticism into science.  She used a method I refer to as “directed discovery” constantly challenging us with questions about our beliefs and expectations.  For example, we were asked, “Why are four bolts needed for the tool holders?  After we got over the because-we’ve-always-done-it-that-way answers, one of the operators had a brainstorm: “Can we replace two of the bolts with guide pins?” he asked.  We experimented with the idea and, notwithstanding the concerns of the CNC lathe manufacturer, the guide pin idea worked!

Over a four-month period, focusing on sixty-six parts that ran on one CNC lathe, setups were reduced first from an hour to thirty minutes, then twenty and finally to eight minutes for any changeover between any two parts.  At that point the operators began measuring the setups in seconds.

The impact this had on our operation was truly revolutionary.  An abstract understanding that we had gained from reading Shingo’s book was now replaced by a tacit learning that could only have come through guided discovery and continual practice: Learning by doing or, in this case, “Lean By Doing.”

There are two morals to this story:

  1. Book study or classroom activities alone cannot create deep learning and may, in fact cause persons to privately harbor doubts. Only with constant hands-on practice can we remove the conceptual blind spots that obscure the full benefit of Lean tools.
  2. The perspective gained through the mentoring from our consultant was necessary to help us see beyond our conceptual blind spots.  Experienced eyes can guide inexperienced.

GBMP has chosen the “Lean-by-doing” theme for its 12th annual Northeast Lean Conference and in doing so we have invited some the most hands-on practitioners and experts to share their tacit learning with every participant.  Over half of our sessions will be hands-on learning.  The event gets under way in 26 days and registration is still open at www.northeastLEANconference.org.    Hope to see you there.



Peripheral Discoveries

The following post is inspired by The Teachings of Don Juan, an anthropological novel from the 1960’s written by Carlos Castaneda chronicling his travels with Don Juan, a Yaqui shaman.   To crudely paraphrase, according to Don Juan, the road to knowledge is blocked first by fear of learning new ideas, an experience most of us have had to one degree or another on our Lean journeys.  For those who forge ahead in the face of this “natural enemy” of knowledge, we are rewarded with “clarity,” a confidence we gradually acquire as we seek to learn.  Clarity, however, becomes the second enemy of knowledge, because its focus blinds us to new learning beyond a confined framework.  Shingo called it complacency.  I call it “too happy too soon.”  The point is when we are too confident with our understanding of continuous improvement, new learning stops.   With that preface, here is a story:

peripherySometimes we go to the floor with a specific intention, but along the way discover an opportunity well beyond the margins of our conscious attention.   As an example, I was once tasked with improving the productivity of a high-speed manual packaging line about thirty feet in length, one where products were delivered by conveyor to a team of employees who frantically picked, packed and heat-sealed individual products in plastic sleeves.  Picture Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory; that was the pace and tenor of this line.  I was working with a team of six persons from production, each focused on a particular function within the line, while I stood back attempting to see the whole.  There were a hundred observable reasons why this line did not hit packing targets, but that focus is not the subject of this blog post; only the backdrop.

As I concentrated on the packing line, an area chosen by the company’s owner for improvement, an interference blip appeared just at the edge of my peripheral vision.  Someone was observing from distance.  A middle-aged employee standing in the finished goods warehouse was watching intently.  Call him Jim; he was the warehouse manager.  I briefly glanced in Jim’s direction and smiled.  He smiled back and then during a break approached me.   “I don’t know why you’re focusing on this line,” Jim said alluding to the packing line in front of me.  “They’re producing far more than we sell.  I can hardly find a place to put the products.”

“Where should we be watching?”, I asked Jim.  “Come watch us pick and pack orders for Wal-Mart,” Jim replied.  “We can’t hit their deliveries and are in danger of losing that business.  If that happens, you won’t have to spend time on that packing line.  It will be shut down!”  At the end of the day, Jim and I reconvened in the warehouse for a quick review of the pick and pack process.   His team was working overtime to complete an order that, if not shipped on-time in-full, might be refused altogether.   As we walked the process, once again my peripheral vision picked up some blips.  Other warehouse employees watching and listening just out of my line of sight were now keyed into our observation.  They too had ideas about improvement to the shipping process.  Ultimately, we re-focused our attention away from a packaging process that surely could be improved but was less critical to one that had only been on the periphery but nevertheless was extremely important.

Today I am frequently asked by organizations that I visit, “Where do you look for improvement when you visit a site?”   My answer is, I try not to focus right away in order to receive any signal, direct or deflected.  I don’t want to ‘point the camera’ based only on my past experience.   Or as Shingo put it “The best place to look for improvement is in an area where it is thought not to exist.”

Do you let your current knowledge obscure opportunities for new learning?  Are your decisions ruled exclusively by “clarity” or are you following the ways of Don Juan?   Let me hear from you.


PS It’s hard to believe but there are only 48 days until The 2016 Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference! Our 12th annual event features five tracks and includes presentations by Lean thought leaders, peer-to-peer discussions of critical best practices, experiential learning through hands-on exercises and exceptional bench-marking opportunities, all designed to help you take your Lean initiative to the next level.The practical learning format caters to all learning styles & levels of experience. From the front lines to the corner offices,  there is something for everyone.  Please join us on October 4-5, 2016 at the DCU Center in Worcester MA to learn how to help your organization act its way into Lean thinking. Read more about the event, view the agenda, read the abstracts and register here.

Profitless Part Proliferation

leadwireI wrote a post a little more than five years ago about Variety Reduction Program (VRP), an amazing but little known product design optimization tool.  At the time I referred to VRP as an idea whose “time had not yet come.”  Last week, as I gave a short presentation on VRP, I realized that five years later its time apparently still has not come.  In the interest of creating more interest around this significant technique, the following post expands on my epistle from 2011 and provides a couple of tangible examples of that significance from my own experience.

First, I think the technique deserves a new, mnemonic and alliterative moniker:  Profitless Part Proliferation.   I suggest this clarification because the word “variety” has an unfortunate positive connotation in the sense of greater customer selection, and therefore turns off sales and marketing folks before you can explain that VRP is not about product line trimming.  That was my initial experience in my own company many years ago.  “Just another anti-customer maneuver by operations,” I heard.  In fact, VRP aka P3 is about trimming needless part variety and all of its associated costs (e.g. drawings, inspection, purchase orders, stocking locations, etc.)

Secondly, I would like to call attention to the false sense of profitability that is often created through the addition of new parts and assemblies.   Minimizing the functional cost of material (the one that shows up on variance reports) for a single product looks good on paper, but almost always creates huge overhead costs arising from complexity.  Engineers and cost accountants typically focus on the apparent profit from product X, but ignore the resulting system costs.   They can’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak.   The following two examples for common part commodities, one a purchased part and the other a sub-assembly, speak to this problem:

O-rings.  A project was initiated to examine O-ring specifications and dimensions – things like durometer, chemical resistance, temperature range, ID and OD.   The first thing we realized was that there was no single repository for this information.  Our computer part master record contained dozens of fields to support ordering and costing, but most important design information was squished unintelligibly into a description field.  After cataloging specs and dimensions for O-rings, we realized that twenty-nine different O-rings were stocked.  Our discoveries:

  • Our information system made it difficult for designers see what was already available when they were choosing parts. It was just faster and easier to go to a supplier catalog. An alarming amount of part variety arose simply from poor design tools.
  • Once we were able to view O-rings as a part type from a design standpoint, we realized there was considerable overlap in specs and dimensions. Of the twenty-nine O-rings we cataloged, we determined that all production needs could be handled by only five O-rings.
  • Of the five remaining O-rings, one had metric dimensions because of unanticipated tolerances with mating parts. Rather than deal with correcting the mating parts, a unique O-ring was selected as a “bushing.”  Incidentally, that particular new part required the addition of a new supplier.

The rub was that the most robust O-rings cost a few cents more than marginally acceptable specifications.  Cost accountants argued that using the most robust  O-rings would increase product cost, ignoring the additional costs of maintaining two-dozen unneeded parts.  In fact, as we were a low-volume high-variety producer, we pretty much had to order months of supply for every one of the different O-rings anyway.  Finally, engineers argued that the cost of an engineering change – particularly a drawing change – was too great.  “We have better things to do” I heard.   Fact is, engineers are typically not rewarded for fixing up old parts; they are recognized for designing something new. Ultimately, however, some concessions were made in the interest of experimentation and the O-ring variety was reduced.

Lead wires.  A more egregious example of Profitless Part Proliferation was the variety of lead-wire assemblies. As a manufacturer of electro-mechanical products, my company built thousands of different lead-wire assemblies to support perhaps three dozen product families. At one point we dedicated a full bay of ASRS storage to lead-wires.  Still, lead-wire assembly stock-outs represented a major cause of late customer deliveries. Lead-wires were cut and terminated in large batches owing to the long set-ups on the machine.  While working on set-up reduction of the lead-wire machine, a production team lead astutely wondered why many lead-wires differed by insignificant lengths, as little as 1/32”.  During a project launched to catalog the variety in gauges, stranded or solid, terminations, insulation color and material – and many other specs – we did in fact identify an important opportunity just in lead-wire length variety.  This variety, we suddenly realized, stemmed from a single statement regarding the length of the connection leads outside the end item enclosure.  Sales and technical literature read something like this “Lead-wire length:  12” outside enclosure.”  In fact, our customers would have been happy with “at least 12” outside enclosure.”   Twelve and one-half inches would have been fine, as would twelve and one-thirty second inches, and so on.  The authors of VRP advised us to be clearer regarding which dimensions should be fixed and which could be variable within a range.   Once the product specification was changed to reflect “at least 12 inches outside,” the number and type of lead-wire assemblies plummeted!  So did the stock-outs.

These are just two of many specific examples where parts proliferation was pointless and profitless.  Now, before you say to yourself, “Oh that would never happen in my factory,” I’d encourage you to choose a common commodity of a purchased or manufactured part, and investigate the variety.   Please share a story for our readers about your discoveries. (One lucky commenter will be selected to attend GBMP’s 12th annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference coming in October to Worcester, MA. I am delighted to reveal our four exceptional Keynote presenters will be: Art Byrne, John Shook, Steven Spear & Dr. Eric Dickson (not to mention the forty other educational, informative, motivational and fun breakout sessions).

Shigeo Shingo was quoted as saying “The worst waste is the waste we cannot see.”   Help us to see by sharing an example from your experience.   I’d hate to think that I’ll be reflecting again in another five years on an idea whose time still has not yet come.


BTW: GBMP’s calendar of Shingo Institute workshops is jam packed through October. Check it out here and join us for a workshop (or two) soon.

lfxAlso, I’m happy to share that GBMP’s online streaming video subscription service which we launched in March and call Leanflix  is receiving terrific reviews. We are so glad that we have been able to provide convenient, low-cost, on-demand video training content to meet the varied and ongoing training needs of so many in our Lean community. If you haven’t checked it out, I hope you will set aside a little time this week to do so.

– Bruce