Tag Archives: shigeo shingo

Dead See Scrolls

I participated recently in the AME conference in Jacksonville, Florida; a terrific rally for manufacturing excellence with the tongue-twisting theme “Strategic Success Through People Powered Excellence.”   I had a small role on a keynote panel that attempted to answer questions from attendees relating to generating the people power needed for strategic success.  The session evoked a sense of déjà vu, as the challenge to get everyone actively engaged in improvement  – referred to in pre-Lean times as Total Employee Involvement or TEI –  has resurfaced after nearly three decades of dormancy under the heading of people powered excellence. “This is a good thing,” I thought to myself, “that the Lean transformation discussion has moved to the social part of Lean, but why has it taken so long to resurface?”

When the panel discussion concluded, I retreated to further reflection: “Maybe,” I thought, “there never was a social part of Lean, only a set of techniques to be implemented and layered over a traditional organizational structure that valued only a few “thinkers” and treated everyone else as expendable ‘doers.” Maybe this was why the focus shifted in the early ’90s from Total Employee Involvement to Some Employee Involvement: Blitz Kaizen teams and black belts and subject matter experts and value stream leaders, none of which existed in the pre-Lean era. Maybe the Total part was just too hard or too foreign, so we retreated to our caste system of thinkers and doers and glommed onto the technical part of TPS. Technical problems, after all, are always so much easier to solve than people problems.

ideabookIn the late 80’s, Productivity Press (now CRC Press –  then the leader in bringing TPS thinking to America) published an excellent “TEI Newsletter”, a resource that provided tremendous insight about creating the environment that we are now referring to as ‘people powered excellence.’ I have all the old issues, but there is no reference to the newsletter on the Internet; and no reference to TEI in the popular Lean Lexicon or any other glossary I researched. The acronym and what it stands for have apparently been expunged from our Lean consciousness.   For those of you who’d like to revisit this prehistoric concept I recommend reading The Idea Book, authored by the Japan Human Relations Association in 1998. The book (once published by CRC Press) is now out of print, but available on Amazon for $0.01.

theoryzDigging farther into the pre-Lean period is another seminal text by William Ouchi, entitled Theory Z, a seminal dissertation penned in 1982 on creating a management system that stimulates employee engagement and loyalty.   This book came to mind during my keynote panel discussion. I wondered how many of the 1500 persons in the room had ever heard of it. Theory Z is also now out of print and available on Amazon for $0.01. Ouchi’s book is largely reflective of W. Edwards Deming’s thinking, and is still very important reading.

My post-panel musings caused me to venture to the AME exhibitors area for a visit to the CRC Press booth to peruse their latest offerings. Nearly all of the display was comprised of technical how-to books: 5S, A3, 3P, kaizen events, policy deployment, value streaming for this and that, and a host of Lean-for… texts (Lean for sales, Lean for healthcare, Lean for accounting, etc.) I asked the salesperson, “Do you still publish Ohno’s and Shingo’s books? I don’t see them here.”   He replied, “Yes we do, but we only bring new books to the conference.” (Shingo’s 1988 book, Non-Stock Production, is happily still in print, if not on the shelves.) As he answered, I recalled a warning from Shigeo Shingo that we should “not confuse means with ends,” for example, don’t think of 5S as an end in itself, but as a means to a higher purpose. All I saw for sale however was means type texts from latter day disciples.   Apparently the works from the likes of Shingo and Ohno and Ouchi have become more like the Dead Sea scrolls: they still exist, but almost nobody reads them any more. Call them the Dead See Scrolls to disambiguate.


News Flash: DExc

Don’t miss this important Shingo Institute training event, Discover Excellence.
Date: January 8-9, 2014
Place: Haworth Inc., Holland, Michigan
Instructor: Me
For more information, visit www.gbmp.org and click on Events

BTW: This is the fourth anniversary of Old Lean Dude, a blog I started partly to promote management engagement in continuous improvement and partly as a means to blow off steam. Posting about twice per month since 2010 has, in fact, been helpful to my personal sense of well being, but I hope there has also been some value to others. Thanks to everyone who has responded to my posts. I really do appreciate your comments and observations.   Keep ‘em coming.  – Bruce


Not wishing to rub salt in the wounds of my beleaguered Red Sox, their meteoric rise from last place in 2012 to first place in 2013 and subsequent plummet to the cellar in 2014 underscores the problems with speculative production. Last week, celebrating a birthday, I was offered a dish of “Fenway Fudge” ice cream, and was amused by the container.


Well perhaps the Sox were when the product was made. Or maybe the ice cream (which, by the way is delicious) was made very recently, but dispensed into packaging that was printed in 2012. Maybe a buyer got a good deal on a large print quantity. The specialty packing industry typically likes long runs to amortize pre-prep and set-ups. Or maybe the forecast for the 2014 season augurs another rise from the ashes for the Sox.   I don’t follow the team closely, so perhaps someone more in the know has a line on next season.

My guess however is the large quantities of packaging and ice cream were manufactured according to what Shigeo Shingo referred to as “speculative production.”  Fenway Fudge, after all, is not the only Red Sox flavor; Green Monster Mint and Grand Slam Vanilla, to name a couple more, also sport the “Champions” banner. So if the ice cream is good, what’s the big deal?  Diehard fans still love their Sox even if the packaging is a season behind (or ahead.) The big deal, I think, is about the need to produce packaging and product well before, as Mr. Shingo would say, they are “authorized.” When the time to produce goods and services is much much longer than the customer’s desired lead-time, then we are forced to speculate – roll the dice – in order to schedule our resources.  Not every type of manufacturer will be so obviously impacted as one that ties it’s marketing to a baseball team, but seasonality, product proliferation, and customer taste make long runs of any product a gamble. And while not every product will cost as much to store as ice cream (note the use-by date on the Fenway Fudge package is 9/30/15), the need to produce too much or produce too soon squanders resources and increases costs in a way that current cost accounting rules hide as an asset.

One of my favorite Shigeo Shingo quotes is:

“The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.”

Overproduction’s stealth has been legislated into management accounting and operations policy, and until this is recognized, it will be rationalized as a necessary evil, needed to “hit the numbers.”

Is overproduction really seen as a waste in your business, or is it tacitly accepted? Share a thought.

As for the Sox? Wait for next season. Go Sox.

O.L.D. smilebruce

Hey! Our 10th Annual Northeast Lean Conference is next week! October 1 & 2 at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. Over 550 Lean learners from 150 companies have already signed up. Click here to register today to learn, share, and recharge your Lean batteries. Hope to see you there.

Can’t See

cantseepicMy friend and mentor, Gifford Brown, told me a remarkable story some time back about a visit to his plant in 1987 by Shigeo Shingo in which Shingo, with the help of set-up people, operators and a tool maker, demonstrated (in the space of a day) how machine set-ups could be reduced from four hours to under 15 minutes.  I wrote a post about this story about three years ago entitled  Standards — Part 1, which probably would be good for you to peruse before continuing to today’s sequel.

When Gifford first told me of his remarkable experience with Dr. Shingo, I was so impressed that I retold it at every opportunity in my own plant. My plant had struggled with long set-ups, so this anecdote was important to us.  I think we were victims a belief system and set of knee-jerk policies that stood in the way of open-mindedness.  The idea that set-ups can be consistently reduced, as Dr. Shingo said, by “59/60’s”, made peoples’ heads spin.  Managers, who envisioned a rushed production environment, raised fears of quality problems.  Operators feared the possibility of a machine crash or operator injury.  Accountants worried about a presumed drop in machine utilization.  And there was, of course, the mindless objection: “We don’t build automobiles in our plant!”

Fortunately, there was one thing we could all agree on in my facility:  On-time deliveries of parts from our machining department to our assembly department stunk!  We seemed always to be building too much of something we didn’t need, while parts needed in assembly ran short.  This pain, like the grain of sand in the oyster’s shell, eventually produced the miracle of eight minute changeovers and better deliveries to the internal customer.   In retrospect, it was also fortunate that the relatively small size of our factory (under a hundred thousand square feet) made our set-up problems more accessible to management observation.

So, now the rest of the story:   A couple years after hearing from Gifford about Dr. Shingo’s visit to his plant,  I ran into him at the Shingo Conference.

“Gifford,” I said, “That story you told me about Dr. Shingo’s changeover demonstration was so good, I’ve retold it many times.”

Gifford smiled as he responded.  “Oh, that’s nothing! You haven’t heard the best part of the story:  First, Dr. Shingo’s training absolutely changed the way we approached set-ups and more than that the involvement of our production associates.”

He went on.  “But unfortunately, the improvements did not extend beyond my plant. We’d asked sister facilities to send representatives to our plant  for the changeover demonstration so they too could see the power of Shingo’s ideas.  But they all sent junior engineers, persons with no influence, to participate.  When those folks returned to their facilities they heard universally from their managers,

“We can’t see spending time on this.  We have more important things to do.”

The moral of this story:  Sometimes we can’t see because we have our eyes closed.

Are your eyes open?   Share a comment.


BTW – There’s still time to sign up for my next Tea Time with the Toast Guy free webinar on Monday March 3, from 3:00-3:45 p.m. EST.  The topic will be “Lean CompensationI’ll be discussing ways to bring front line employee compensation into sync with your Lean deployment.  Hope you can join me.  Click here to register. 

You can learn about all of GBMP’s public lean training events here  – from benchmarking Plant Tours to Lean Accounting Workshops, Six Sigma Green Belt Certificate programs and much more.


crackedAccording to the USDA Egg Grading Manual,  “Checks [aka ‘cracks’] are an unavoidable problem in the marketing of eggs because eggs cannot be assembled, graded, packed, transported, and merchandized without some breakage. “   Unavoidable.  That’s the standard, I guess.   The grading manual does not cite a specific AQL for cracks, but clearly it implies some number above zero.   According to ISO standard 2859,  AQL, Acceptance Quality Limit, is the “quality level that is the worst tolerable.”   ‘Tolerable to whom?’ I ask.

Who buys eggs without opening them to check for cracks?  Because the industry has decided that cracks are ‘unavoidable’, we, the customers, routinely inspect for broken eggs.  Most persons I meet, outside of a few in purchasing or quality, have never even heard of AQL or the statistics behind it, but all are routinely subjected to its outcome.  I first became aware of AQL in an oblique fashion when I worked in an IT department attempting to implement MRP.  One of about two dozen order modifiers provided in our MRP software, AQL, was the means by which our buyers enabled suppliers to pass inspection for incoming material with defects.  If incoming material could not pass a 1% AQL, it might be tweaked to 1.5%.   We unfortunately decided that inspecting defective lots was sometimes  more tolerable than running out of parts.  After a time, it became our standard, just like checking for cracked eggs.

For the last decade, more or less, I’ve carried an egg carton with me to customers as a prop.  The message attached to the egg carton  is this:

“The only acceptable level of quality from the customer standpoint is zero defects.”

This fundamental principle behind Shigeo Shingo’s zero quality control became a turning point for me in my own understanding.  As customers we should not consider any other level ‘tolerable.’  Once I seriously adopted this principle as a customer, our suppliers became better suppliers  — and we, too, became a better supplier to our customers.

Restated from a supplier’s perspective we say “Never pass a defect.”  That’s the ideal condition for our customer.   To emphasize this thinking, I’ve returned once more to the carton of eggs with a short video vignette about passing defects.   It’s taken from a new GBMP DVD entitled True North In A Nutshell.  Have a laugh: http://youtu.be/MQrB-HIJWlk .  (When was the last time you had egg on your face?   Share a story.)

We’ll release the True North DVD at our Northeast Shingo Conference in Hyannis, Massachusetts, September 24-25 … less than two weeks away!  Hope to see you there.


BTW:  My next free webinar, “Tea Time with the Toast Dude”, entitled Managing Up (click to sign up) is coming up next Tuesday, September 10 at 3:00 p.m.  I’ve had many requests to weigh in on this subject.  And one lucky participant will win a free registration to our Northeast Region Shingo Conference.

Toast Guy

bruce toastI’ve been doing a lot of speaking at conferences this spring, and I’m always warmly greeted as the “Toast Guy”:  the person who produced and starred in the Toast Kaizen video. Earlier this year, I spoke to a large gathering from a metropolitan healthcare system.  When I jokingly asked them “Who has seen Toast Kaizen?” this was their response.  Of course, I’m flattered to be recognized and happy to hear how Toast has helped to introduce continuous improvement in many settings and now in eighteen different languages!  But my head has not grown too much.  After all, it’s a thirty-minute video about a ‘guy making toast’; a device intended to unfreeze people’s thinking.  It’s not exactly what you’d call a body of work.   I’m proud to say it’s a good opener – no more than that.

I often joke that GBMP’s video’s are made for people with short attention spans, but I worry sometimes that may be all too true.  We try to provide some inspiration through our medium, but we are limited in the amount of information that can be conveyed.  At some point Lean learners need to progress to deeper study.  I always recommend the works by Shigeo Shingo and Taiichi Ohno because they are timeless and because they are multi-dimensional, describing the Toyota Production System in both technical and social terms. And they are primary sources from the creators of what we call Lean today.  It’s troubling to me that these comprehensive sources of enlightenment have become almost obscure.

Last month I had the honor of presenting at the 25th Annual International Shingo Prize Conference in Provo, Utah.  As Shigeo Shingo is a hero for me, I was delighted when asked if I would provide a presentation that celebrated Shingo’s many contributions.  I began my presentation, by holding up a copy of my video, Toast Kaizen, and asking once again “Who has seen Toast Kaizen?”  Nearly every hand went up in an audience of six hundred people.   Then I held up Shigeo Shingo’s book, Non-Stock Production (published 1988), and asked how many persons had read that book.   About six hands went up!   I responded: “Therein lies a big problem.  Your homework after my talk is to buy a copy of this book and read it.”

I offer the same homework to O.L.D. readers.  There are a gazillion latter day lean dudes like me who may have a bit to say, but if you haven’t studied Shingo’s books, you have a big opportunity ahead of you.


BTW:  Happy Memorial Day (formerly Decoration Day, formerly observed on May 30, before it became economically expedient to move it to the last Monday of May.)

And a little reminder: Friday May 31st is the last day to take advantage of discounted early registration pricing for the Northeast Shingo Prize Conference, a regional version of the larger event I attended earlier in Utah. This one is in Hyannis, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in late September. The theme is “True North: Set the Course, Make Waves”.  Learn much more about it here. I hope to see you there.