Those of you that subscribe to the monthly Superfactory e-Newsletter have probably been following an interesting debate in the Historical Persective section, which is also in the History of Excellence section of Superfactory.
Before I go further, I want to emphasize that from a lean transformation perspective this debate is pretty inconsequential and unimportant. It is far more important to focus on the future and work on continuous improvement. But for some of us history junkies, this is still interesting.
One of the reasons the debate has become so popular is because it is between two heavyweights in the lean world, both of whom are regular contributors to Superfactory… Norman Bodek (publisher and author of many award-winning books on lean and the original English translations of texts by Shingo and Ohno), and Art Smalley (author of many important articles and books as well as also a Shingo Prize winner). Both of these guys know their stuff, have spent considerable time in Japan, and have actually worked with the founders of TPS.
Up until recently most of us have taken for granted that Shingo was responsible for the Toyota Development System and the early refinement of that philosophy, and that Ohno was responsible for executing the system.
Art Smalley stirred things up a bit when he published an article on Superfactory last April entitled Shingo’s Influence on TPS, which was based on an interview with Isao Kato, a 35-year executive within Toyota. From his perspective Shingo was a consultant who taught an industrial engineering course (the "P-Course") to several thousand Toyota team members. But he didn’t create TPS. In fact, Mr. Kato finds it puzzling why Shingo is so revered in North America. This suprised even Art Smalley at the time, so he did considerable additional research, and those notes are at the bottom of his article.
Norman Bodek has a different point of view, to put it politely, and wrote a counterpoint article for the June newsletter entitled Shingo: The Greatest Manufacturing Consultant. From his perspective, based in part on first-hand experience, Shingo gave birth to the new industrial engineering concepts that then gave birth to lean and the Toyota Production System. Shingo was the genius, and Ohno was the Toyota employee charged with implementing his ideas.
To help clarify things, Art asked Isao Kato himself to write an article for the July newsletter, entitled Shingo’s P-Course and Contribution to TPS, where Mr. Kato elaborates on some of the points he made during his interview with Art. Specifically he provides a detailed outline of the four-week P-Course taught by Shingo, which shows general industrial engineering topics. He also discusses how Shingo typically looked at manufacturing from an individual process perspective, while Ohno kept a top management viewpoint of the overall production process. He also points out that Ohno also did not invent TPS… many of the concepts had already been developed in the early engine plants… and that Shingo was rather critical of those concepts early on.
Art, ever the historical fact-checker, dived into those claims yet again and wrote what he called a Brief Investigation into the Origins of the Toyota Production System. Be careful… that "brief" investigation resulted in a 1.2 megabyte file, complete with photos of old original texts, Japanese translation, and the like. A couple highlights are quotes from Shingo himself saying that Ohno invented TPS and the inconsistencies with who invented SMED.
The reality is that both Shingo and Ohno played huge roles in the development, implementation and communication of the Toyota Production System and eventually Lean. Those accomplishments cannot be belittled by minor points of contention or interpretation. And it’s on the shoulders of those great men that today’s thought leaders, like Norman Bodek and Art Smalley, stand.
Perhaps it’s just another case of the chicken or the egg. It doesn’t change the fact that implementing real lean can drive incredible success.