Mar 12 2016
There is a famous saying that there is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit. Fittingly, we don’t know who said it first, and Quote Investigator found it attributed in various forms to seven different authors. One of them, Harry Truman, had the idea of helping Europe rebuild after World War II but credited George C. Marshall with the plan, and it helped make it pass through congress. However, others who live by their wits as discoverers, inventors, or authors, cannot be so magnanimous, because their intellectual property is their livelihood.
In a blog post from yesterday, Bob Emiliani said “We owe a debt of gratitude to the MIT researchers who introduced the world to Lean, led in part by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones. Their work changed lives in important ways, ranging from developing a stronger, more insightful intellect, useful in all facets of life, to embarking on challenging new careers and improving processes in a wide range of industries.”
It’s a fact that The Machine That Changed The World introduced the word “Lean,” but not the content it covered. I think we do owe a debt of gratitude to researchers like Robert E. Cole for Work, Mobility, and Participation (1979), Richard Schonberger for Japanese Manufacturing Techniques (1982), Robert Hall for Zero Inventories (1983), Kiyo Suzaki for The New Manufacturing Challenge (1987), and Norman Bodek for organizing the translation of many Japanese classics on the subject during that same period at Productivity Press, particularly from Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo.
When Womack and Jones’s book came out in 1991, efforts to adapt TPS in a variety of countries and industries had been underway for a decade, and I thought their book was a good overview of the field as a spectator sport. It could raise awareness, but you couldn’t learn how to do anything from it. The book’s most enduring legacy, for better or worse, is the “Lean” label, but the people inspired by it were the second generation to learn from TPS, not the first.
As explained in this blog’s About the author page, I spent the early 1980s making my bones in Manufacturing and, by 1991, had already been consulting on fixing factories for four years with Kei Abe, in auto parts, surgical implants, detergents, and frozen foods. Over the years, I have met a few Americans and Europeans who have been involved with the subject for as long or longer than I have. In the US, I am thinking of Auburn University Prof. J.T. Black; in Europe, of Institut Lean France founder Gilbert Liégeois and Alois Pöttinger Technical Director Klaus Pöttinger, both of whom were influenced by factory visits in Japan in 1980.
Following is a list of books that, that I studied at the time and that all predate The Machine That Change The World:
On implementation strategy and tactics
On organization and people
On 5S, TPM, and Visual Management