Toyota seems happy to perpetuate the myth that their kimono has always been wide open and they are willing to share the spirit and the mechanics of their production system. That position, however, is the one they assumed after the cat was pretty well out of the bag. The chapter in Rebirth of American Industry in which I lay out the piece meal drawing out of the Toyota secrets tends to be the one that elicits the most feedback from people, as they relate their own frustrating quests to get their arms around the TPS. Early learning about the system was not that easy, and its various elements became known outside of Japan in bits and pieces over many years. The evolving picture of lean in the West is largely the result of insights gained a little bit at a time over the course of twenty years.
Norm Bodek is perhaps Toyota’s biggest cheerleader and has been poking around inside the company since he led the first study missions to Japan over a quarter of a century ago; but as big a Toyota fan as Norm is, he views their treatment of Taichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo as low points in their history. Typical retirement for a good performer at Toyota is a lucrative consulting contract to senior management, allowing the contributor to fade into the sunset with a wad of cash and decreasing responsibilities. Instead, after all he did for Toyota, Ohno was snubbed with a consulting contract to a supplier company when it came time for him to step down.
Shingo’s ending with Toyota was similar. The greatest manufacturing and industrial engineer of all time, and the man who was responsible for billions of Toyota’s profits, was given a going away dinner; then an engraving of Mount Fuji arrived in the mail a few weeks later as the sum total of Toyota’s appreciation for all of his work.
Norm is sure that the shoddy treatment of these two great manufacturing minds was pure and simple retaliation for exposing the Toyota Production System to the West. My point is not to criticize Toyota, however. They should have been more magnanimous to Ohno and Shingo, but If I were them, I would not have been eager to share my most powerful competitive weapons either. (And heaven forbid that I knock Toyota again. The comments in Superfactory have been generally mild after my recent comments about the makeup of the Toyota board. My email, however, has been downright ugly at times as people privately and usually anonymously respond with deep emotion to anything that puts Toyota in an unfavorable light.) My point is that our understanding of the system has been piecemeal. The result has been considerable confusion and misunderstanding in the West.
First it was JIT and kanban, then it was quality circles and employee involvement, then it was SMED and poka yoke, then 5S and Value Stream Mapping, and so forth. At each step experts arose, books were written, and companies bored ahead full steam to build their factories and businesses around the latest ‘pillar’. The continuing lack of consistent understanding of the system is evident in the pages of Evolving Excellence and elsewhere as the debates occasionally rev up to a fever pitch among people with opposing views of its critical makeup.
If my intent is not to slam Toyota, it is very much to slam Boeing and others in the defense industry. Three very credible and very unbiased organizations have come together to create a lean certification program – SME, AME and the Shingo Prize. I will probably never go to the trouble to become certified through the program – but getting the certificate is not where the critical value of their effort lies. The importance of their effort is that they are pulling together a consensus definition and a consensus body of knowledge, which the manufacturing community desperately needs.
I do not agree with the thrust of some of their work. I think there are some important pieces missing. The certification program is a long way from perfect. But they are all non-profit organizations and their doors are wide open for me to join the club and make my case for changing the system. The same is true for every lean expert out there. This is the forum everyone needs to gravitate towards and bring their knowledgeable and heartfelt suggestions and arguments.
Organizations like the Supplier Excellence Alliance – a lean group with its own body of knowledge (and a very weak body in my opinion) is being driven and funded by a bunch of defense companies to get their supplier base leaner. A Boeing guy chairs the network of lean advisers at SME, but Boeing is a the driving force for SEA at the same time. It is hard to comprehend why Boeing would be chairing a group that is integral to the SME,AME/Shingo lean certification program, while forcing the supply base through a different curriculum. Boeing should decide what they think lean manufacturing is all about, then stick to that story. All they are doing is perpetuating the confusion.
Consulting companies, colleges, and many of the MEPs also offer lean certification. SEA and all of these self proclaimed certifiers of lean competence are doing their customers a great disservice. The SME/AME/Shingo effort will eventually become the national standard in exactly the same way that APICS certification became the standard for production and inventory control. When someone is looking for an MRP wizard, APICS certification is the only credential that matters – certification from an individual college, company or consulting firm means nothing. The same will soon be true with Lean certification. All that remains to be seen is whether it happens the hard way or the easy way.
The world desperately needs to get on the same page regarding lean manufacturing. Competing lean bodies of knowledge confuse the manufacturing community and cause people and companies to waste an awful lot of time and money. Organizations like SEAS and all of the training taking place at the MEPs and the colleges are great, but they need to be teaching the body of knowledge that prepares people to pass the certification criteria set forth by SME/AME/Shingo.
If someone in one of these groups thinks they have a better idea of lean than the folks who set forth the SME/AME/Shingo definition of lean, then they owe it to manufacturing to go to Detroit, look up Jeannine Kunz at SME, who administers the thing, and arm wrestle with her and the rest of the folks there to decide who is right. Then both sides need to accept the results and present one voice to manufacturing.