Despite the stacks of books in my office, living room and bedroom, I am not a hoarder. I get books from every direction – some I buy, many are gifts, dozens are review requests, and I give the good ones away all the time. There are some I have bought half a dozen times – and given away as many times. One I have kept for almost 30 years, though, and will never part with is my copy of Shingo’s original edition ‘green book’.
Those familiar with it might be asking, “30 years? Impossible since it wasn’t published until 1989.” That’s not the green book I am talking about – the book I keep is the original green book – the one Norm Bodek cajoled the Japan Management Association to sell him a few copies of long ago.
The one on the right is the 1989 version, translated by Andrew Dillon. The dog eared, beat up one on the left is mine, translated by God only knows who. Dillon made the original a lot more readable, but he also left a lot of fundamental points behind in the effort.
In the original Shingo went to quite a bit of trouble to compare and contrast Toyota’s production system with Henry Ford’s ideas. Little, if any of this, found its way into later versions. He discusses “Mr. Solensen’s description of Ford System“, meaning Charles Sorensen, Ford’s production leader. And he describes the Toyota Production System as a “developed pattern of the Ford system“, stating that Toyota “enlarged and progressed the Ford system“.
Thanks to this book I was able to learn quite a bit about lean from the early Ford system while many other self-proclaimed experts were writing about lean as the opposite of mass production as developed by Ford. Shingo described exactly where they were identical, and what Toyota had “enlarged and progressed“.
I learned the over-arching supremacy of cycle time compression – “perfect performance from shortening production period” – in Shingo’s translator’s Janglish. That Shingo citing Frank Gilbreth – but not FW Taylor – was also telling. These nuggets were largely lost in the later editions.
The original translation was wretched – I have jokingly described it as Shingo being cheap and hiring a nephew who had studied English for two years in high school. Actually, I have no idea who translated it, but their English skills were severely limited. It took me a few readings to get through, and comprehend, passages such as:
“Defects are ‘originated at processing’ and ‘inspections are only to find the defects’, so basic recognition must be necessary. Therefore, ‘if a defect is found, ‘information must be immediately transmitted to the processing and an amendment must be accepted at the processing method’ so that defects would be reduced. “Faster the speed of the feed-back function is, faster the reduction in percent of defect is’. The abovementioned could be phrased as follows. Judgement inspection … inspection to find defects. Informative inspection … inspection to prevent defects. Unexpectedly, most plants consider that only judgement inspection (inspection for distinction of non-defective and defective products) is an inspection.”
Nonetheless, Shingo’s book not only gave me a wealth of information unavailable elsewhere, it gave me a leg up on everyone else. Taking what Shingo described as “Analytical Chart of Process” I was able to analyze processes years before the term ‘Value Stream Mapping’ was coined.
So what’s the takeaway on all of this – other than the fact that I have a lean resource few others do? I believe it is to accept little from the lean experts unquestioningly. We are all a product of the information made available to us, and few have comprehensive, first hand knowledge of Toyota’s production system, its origins and the underlying principles. Who can say with certainty how Ohno or Shingo would have applied their ideas to your unique situation? In the end, everyone has to learn for themselves, which means challenging that which doesn’t make sense, and continually asking questions and digging deeper.