In the articles section, there is a great interview Art Smalley had with Toyota veteran Ike Kato called Shigeo Shingo’s Influence on TPS, in which Kato downplays Shingo’s role and pumps up Ohno’s contribution. John Miller over at Gemba Panta Rei has been writing a fascinating series on the early development of TPS taken largely from Ohno’s writing. Shingo wrote his own books on the matter with a different version. Of course, Henry Ford wrote about his development of the assembly line, as did Charles Sorenson.
Anyone who has read my book knows that I am fascinated with history – especially the history of manufacturing and the evolution of lean. I have read just about everything I can get my hands on about Toyota, Ford, GM and the other great manufacturers. My advice to you when you read the reminisces of the manufacturing greats: Believe about ten percent of it.
Egos are funny things. The true contributions of Shingo and Ohno, Ford and Sorenson are awe inspiring. They had ideas and made decisions that changed the world. Yet, for some reason, they all feel the need to exaggerate and overstate their personal contribution to the success of their companies. Henry Ford did not ‘invent’ the assembly line. He was probably not even in the building the day it first came to life. Equally nonsensical is Sorenson’s often repeated tale of a chassis being pulled through the Mack Avenue plant on a Sunday morning in 1908. For Sorenson’s story to be true, they must have learned nothing from the experience. The assembly line came to life six years later in a different plant.
I believe the part of the Kato interview in which he says that Shingo had little personal, hands on involvement in the implementation of the TPS. I also believe the part where he says that Shingo trained thousands of industrial engineers who did the actual work of making the TPS a reality. I do not believe for one minute a yarn about Ohno seeing a grocery store, having a ‘Eureka’ moment, and running back to Toyota to personally implement the kanban system.
These guys were senior people in very big companies with very full schedules. There were not enough hours in any of their lifetimes to have personally done a fraction of the things for which they have grabbed credit. Kanban took better than twelve years from concept to a reasonable semblance of its final form at Toyota. Had Ohno devoted a significant amount of time over a twelve year span to kanban, he never would have met his bigger management responsibilities, and he would have languished in middle management his entire career. Henry Ford was the Chairman and CEO of a company with 14,000 employees and plants spread across the country when the assembly line sprang to life. How much time would the CEO of your company devote to a shop floor engineering project?
The popular press falls for those stories, but manufacturing people know better. It takes time to put in a single kanban. There is a lot of arithmetic to do, people to talk to, procedures to develop How many kanbans do you suppose Toyota has – or had back then? Thousands? Tens of thousands? And a guy at a Director level personally did all of that math and developed all of those procedures, specified all of those container sizes, designed all of those bin labels?
The point of all of this is that old men worrying about their legacies when they write their memoirs seem to be a natural fact of life. How far did your grandfather have to walk through snow how deep uphill both ways to get to school? The difficulty it presents for the current lean community is that it creates the impression that lean is the product of individual genius. We get this image of the early Ford plant or the later Toyota plant running pretty much like every other plant until one day, in a blinding flash of genius, some guy that makes Einstein look like an idiot has the idea that changes everything. We are led to believe that lean somehow depends on our CEO duplicating that magical moment that will enable a sudden transformation from the manufacturing past to lean. An event like Dorothy’s house landing on the witch will happen – and our plant will go from the grainy black and white of the old to a brilliantly colored world of happily singing employees.
It didn’t happen that way at Ford or Toyota, and it is not going to happen that way at your plant.
What really happened at Ford was that Henry Ford and James Couzens created a management infrastructure driven by cash flow. Their entire management system put relentless pressure on the organization to continually reduce cycle times and increase throughput. That environment drove hundreds of people to come up with innovative ways to eliminate defects and put everything in motion. Ford, Couzens and Sorenson deserve great credit for vision and leadership – management – but not for industrial engineering.
The same thing happened at Toyota. The Toyoda family – Eiji and Kiichiro, even the old man Sakachi, – set in place a cash driven management system. JIT was the natural extension of their principles. Ohno, Shingo and a host of others had ideas and insights that furthered the company’s pursuit of the Toyoda management goals. They were communicators, educators and browbeaters; and they energized hundreds of Toyota industrial engineers to make the changes that ultimately became the TPS.
It will happen at your company the same way. Sooner or later, the senior people will define the objectives, structure the organization and put in the metrics that will start to drive people to pursue projects based on lean principles. It will be like turning a battleship around in a river and you will not know when it began or when it ended. Eventually, however, you will realize that your company is lean, and you won’t even know when it changed.
Then, of course, you will go on to spend your golden years on a rocking chair at the retirement home telling the young folks how it was all your idea and that you did all the work.
Oh, yeah – the title. Cyrus McCormick did not invent the reaper. A family slave by the name of Jo Anderson, a blacksmith and mechanical wizard of sorts, did. Old Cyrus was a great salesman and entrepreneur, but he seemed to forget that detail when he wrote about events later in life. So here is to Jo Anderson, and the thousands of production workers, supervisors and engineers, lost to history, who really deserve the credit for creating what we know as lean manufacturing!