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Pioneers of Lean- Ohno & Shingo

An Interview With Norman Bodek 

Strategos: Who really developed the Toyota Production System?

Bodek: I once asked Dr. Shigeo Shingo, "Who really discovered Lean, you or Taiichi Ohno?"  Shingo looked at me and quickly said, "I did, for I was Ohno's teacher."  At a later time I asked an ex-Toyota group manager, Chihiro Nakao, who worked with both Shingo and Ohno a similar question, "Who really discovered Lean, Shingo or Ohno?"  His answer was, "Which came first the chicken or the egg?"

Of course, both Dr. Shingo and Mr. Ohno both played significant roles and it was through their conceptual genius that Lean was born.  

Strategos: What were the key personality characteristics that Shingo and Ohno brought together that provided so much success?

Bodek: They were both like tigers, fiercely aggressive, neither would accept the idea that something could not be done. They gave you the concept and told you to do it.

Ohno would simply say, "I want you to change this warehouse into a machine shop and I want everyone working there to be retrained. I will come back in one year to see it done." He did not tell them how to do it. Ohno had the power, as chairman of Toyota Gosei at the time, and was "ruthless." You had very little choice with him.

Dr. Shingo was also a tiger, but a gentle tiger. He was absolutely brilliant, probably the greatest manufacturing genius of our time, able to solve every manufacturing problem presented to him.

His way was different. He was a teacher. He would help you by asking you questions and encouraging you to experiment. He knew you had the answers within you. He would teach you about waste and give you guidance on how to eliminate that waste.

Strategos: How did Ohno and Shingo arrive at this particular set of elements for their system?

Bodek: Ohno said he learned from three people: Mr. Toyoda who had visited America earlier, Dr. Shingo who was Toyota's primary consultant and teacher, and Henry Ford. Ford was able to build a car in 4 days from iron ore coming out of the ground to the finished product. Ohno then went and found a copy of Henry Ford's book "Today and Tomorrow," and said, "If Ford can do it so can we."

Dr. Shingo was an industrial engineer who studied carefully Frederick Taylor and Frank Gilbreth learning about time and motion studies.

His big breakthrough was to realize the difference between process and operations, process being the total flow of manufacturing from the customer's order to the finished product and operations, a series of machines. By focusing on process he was able to teach us how to smooth out our operations to be more efficient.

Shideo Shingo

Dr. Shigeo Shingo

Industrial Engineer extraordinaire, developer of SMED and advisor to Ohno.

Taiichi Ohno

Taiichi Ohno

Led the implementation of Lean at Toyota in the 1950's and 1960's

Norman Bodek Norman Bodek is an author and publisher who was among the first to bring Japanese management techniques to the West. His new book, Kaikaku, weaves together his own story with fascinating profiles of key personalities such as Ohno and Shingo along with the principles of Lean.

In this interview, Norman gives us insight to these topics and a preview of his book.

Enthusiastic, optimistic and a dynamic facilitator, Norman Bodek has been instrumental in bringing Japanese management techniques to mainstream American companies. He has led 50 industrial missions to Japan, knew Taichii Ohno and was a personal friend of Shigeo Shingo. Norman is a Co-founder of the Shingo Prize.

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