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.
Steve H says
I’ve got the exact same copy and it was one of the first books on lean I ever read. It really sparked an interest. It was challenging to read – not so much the translation – but grasping the new concepts and way of thinking.
It now sits on my desk beside JIT IS FLOW, seeing co-workers pass it by everyday. The secret weapon remains my secret too I suppose.
I love some of the clever mistake proofing too. The story about going to Matsushita and having a spring for the leaflets with a sensor if its missed. Instead of just telling the person to do a better job and paying closer attention (A line I hear go around work enough), they used a clever system to ensure they can’t make a mistake. I’ve seen similar things before and thought of similar ideas thanks to this book. It falls on deaf ears, so the problems never actually go away.
Paul Todd says
I really like the idea of going back to the source material when possible. It’s not that newer works don’t add to the body of knowledge, but well-meaning authors often obscure the concepts in the process of expanding on them. Of course some do it intentionally to give the appearance of new and special knowledge that only they can provide.
Ford’s “Today and Tomorrow” and Drucker’s “Practice of Management” are good examples of oldies but goodies. Art Smalley has done a great job of unearthing early Toyota thinking by translating original documents and interviewing long-retired participants.
As a young engineer the first Shingo book I read was, “A Revolution in Manufacturing: The SMED System”. I then went on to read the others. His discovery and development of mistake-proofing in Zero Quality Control, Source Inspection and the Poka-Yoke System was as epiphany to me. Fresh out of college I obviously thought that narrowing tolerances would, of course, lead to an increased cost of manufacturing. Shingo taught me otherwise and was essential reading in my formative years with his active promotion of “Zero Quality Control” philosophy. He introduced me to the idea that inspection could be eliminated and you could have a reduced reliance on SPC. I was working in the “inspection department” in a large engineering firm, and looking back now, I guess these ideas were somewhat revolutionary at the time. The general consensus amongst the Senior Inspectors was the people were generally stupid and that was why they made mistakes, “foolishly incompetent” was a phrase that was thrown about a lot.
I saw experienced Operators; people who “should know better” (accoriding to the Inspectors) make mistakes. After time went on I understood that we could have the “best” inspectors, 100% inspecting all products and customers would still find problems and return some of them. It dawned on me that perhaps these inspectors themselves were making mistakes! So, it therefore made sense that Production Engineers should try to eliminate the potential for defects as opposed to finding the defects.
Shingo taught me that people will naturally be distracted by something or other and if the system they were working in let them then this would lead to the production of a defect. Shingos four principles still hold true:
1. Control upstream, as close to the source of the potential defect as possible.
2. Establish controls in relation to the severity of the problem.
3. Think smart and small
4. Don’t delay improvement by overanalysing.
Shingo was my first exposure to a true ‘systems thinker.’ Being able to visualise causes and effects, interactions and dynamic behaviours. As relevant now as he ever has has been.
Christopher Pfeiffer says
Funny how we all collect books and pass them out freely. I love the conclusion. One of my most cherished teachings I ever received from Chihiro Nakao was about 10 years ago at the top of the Toyota castle over a very expensive bottle of wine (I PAID)
“If my lips are moving? I’m lying. You must go discover truth yourself.” While the teaching didn’t sink in right away, it has lasted longer than any other direct statement. As with all things, You must “do it yourself” to truly learn Lean. Quoting only from a book will only reveal ignorance not knowledge. Good books (I still love the original Hirano manuals: terrible translations and a very tough read) give you a leg up on where to look and better guess t where to start along with guidance for the journey, but it must still be lived to be real and true.
John Hunter says
I think the takeaway is that there are very valuable resources for managers that are decades old. The waste of failing to use the great ideas for decades ago is huge. As you say, those ideas have to be applied to new situations. But the core ideas found in books such as Shingo’s and The Human Side of Enterprise, The New Economics, Profit Beyond Measure, The Improvement Guide, Creating the Corporate Future… are timeless and ignored by far too many managers.
Zane Ferry says
This was a fun entry to read, Bill – another variety of ‘Back to the Future’ discovery. Thank you for the photo, too, of the The Big Green Book.
As a native-English speaking translator of Japanese, I read the excerpted translation on source inspection and immediate feedback loops with perverse pleasure. As “wretched” as that passage sounds in English, there’s a purity about the clumsy, literal language that keeps it truer to the ideas & concepts within than many smoother-reading versions could ever be. It’s a bit like single-vineyard, unfiltered wine or home baked bread made by craftspeople obsessed by faithfulness to the family recipe. The final products aren’t super “smooth” but the ingredients and methods of their making are accessible when you taste them.
For readers like you, Steve H, and others hungry for the knowledge overlooked in old sources like the Big Green Book, there’s a certain felicity about the wretchedness of the English. Not only is it a more faithful rendering (usually) of the original ideas but it also forces the reader to slow down, really question the meaning, reread and then search again for more clues to meaning. It’s a damned headache, that forces reevaluation of existing ideals (as perhaps wrong) and begs us look again at how we work.
The faint-hearted or casually interested reader would not make it through more than a page of such wretchedness. The ROI is deemed too low for the time and effort. (It’s such an old book, such poor English!) Seems like the same outlook prevails in our daily work and efforts to improvement it too. If there’s no ‘easy-read’ to a problem or smooth path to a solution, then our time might be best spent elsewhere. The assumption is a dubious one.
Christopher P’s Nakao story above is another fine example of a wretched morsel, gotten at high cost, requiring years to swallow and digest. (FOM was, in fact, paraphrasing Ohno himself here.) Great anecdote about a great mentor who prides himself on terse answers (if they are answers at all) virtually untranslatable into smooth English. Socrates in a black turtleneck. Why does he speak that way?
Well I don’t think it’s arrogance or patronizing as some fellow interpreter’s have suggested. No, I think he understands that answers worth knowing must not make good sense to the ears; put another way, that although ‘a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down,’ a mouthful of sand is much more memorable. And for American’s – smooth talkers and easy-listening fans – that grit may just shut us up long enough to see something really meaningful with our own eyes.