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.