Objections To The History Of Quality As Told On The ASQ Website

5 years ago, I pointed out several omissions in the ASQ’s History of Quality pages, which have not been corrected. Specifically, I faulted them for ignoring the TPS/Lean approach to quality, the role of interchangeable parts technology, and the Roman philosopher Cicero, who coined the word “quality.” The first page, however, also contains what I think is an error of commission, where it credits the guilds of medieval Europe as precursors in the field, as follows:

“From the end of the 13th century to the early 19th century, craftsmen across medieval Europe were organized into unions called guilds. These guilds were responsible for developing strict rules for product and service quality. Inspection committees enforced the rules by marking flawless goods with a special mark or symbol.[…] Inspection marks and master-craftsmen marks served as proof of quality for customers throughout medieval Europe. This approach to manufacturing quality was dominant until the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century.”

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The 5-Day Kaizen | Bob Emiliani

Bob Emiliani

Bob Emiliani

“The classic 5-day kaizen was likely created in the late 1980s by Shingijutsu kaizen consultants from Japan as they established their practice in the United States and beyond. Traveling the long distance from Japan to the east coast of the U.S. meant that kaizen consultants should obviously spend more than a day or two at their client’s location before they then return home to Japan. It made sense to stay for a period of time in which many abnormalities could be corrected by facilitating several kaizen teams at one time. Five days seemed about right…”

Sourced from: BobEmiliani.com

Michel Baudin‘s comments:

So the Kaizen Event craze started when the convenience of a Japanese consulting firm met American managers’ quest for instant gratification…

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Giving Credit To The Precursors Of The Lean Movement

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.

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Fairness to Frederick Taylor

Frederick Taylor is an easy target. In a tweet last November Michael Ballé, as “@Thegembacoach” attributed to “taylorism” practices that I have never seen advocated in Taylor’s writings. Enough of Taylor’s own work is questionable that we don’t need to pile on other people’s bad ideas. Along with the chaff , however, there is wheat, and we have more to learn from the enduring part of Taylor’s legacy than from what has been discredited.

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Origin of One-Piece Flow at Toyota | Chip Chapados | LinkedIn

According to Chip Chapados, the concept of one-piece flow emerged from the need to rapidly detect defects in engine castings when Kiichiro Toyoda was reverse-engineering a Chevrolet engine in 1934, and it was originally called “one-by-one confirmation.”

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Does Historical Accuracy Matter?

Cuckoo clock from the Black Forest

The most famous line in The Third Man is Orson Welles’s addition to the script:

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

65 years later, Paul Krugman opened his editorial in today’s New York Times with:

“Ah, Switzerland, famed for cuckoo clocks…”

With all due respect to Paul Krugman, I believe this fame came from the movie, because cuckoo clocks are not from Switzerland but from the Black Forest region of Germany.

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About Frederick Taylor and “taylorism”

“What is “Taylorism” ? Why is it called ‘Taylorism’?” asked Emmanuel Jallas in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn. To understand Taylor, I would recommend reading not only his own works, particularly Shop Management, but also Robert Kanigel’s biography of him, The One Best Way.

Frederick Taylor was first an engineer and co-inventor of the Taylor-White High Speed Steel machining process. It is not what he is best known for today, but that he did this kind of work is revealing about the kind of man he was. While self-taught, he had enough depth as a young man to challenge established beliefs about metal cutting and conduct experiments that proved it could be done twice as fast. This work led to the development of a feed-and-speed calculation slide rule for lathes at Bethlehem Steel.

Another detail that struck me in the discussion of stopwatch time studies in Shop Management was the method he recommended to calculate times for production steps that are too short to be accurately measured individually. He proposes to measure them in groups, for example, from the 1st to the 5th, the 2nd to the 6th,  the 3rd to the 7th, etc. and  solve a system of linear equations to infer times for each step. Then he explained that this worked if and only if the number of steps in each group was relatively prime to the total number of steps. While true, it is beyond the level of arithmetic usually found in industrial engineering texts, particularly of that era.

Frederick Taylor quote

Frederick Taylor quote

Taylor’s technical depth, however, was coupled with such a crude and dismal view of human nature that is could be called “contempt for people.” His explicit goal in Shop Management is to prevent workers from colluding to curtail output, which he calls “soldiering.” See Perpectives on Standard Work for a discussion of the differences between his approach and that of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.

He is best known for his use of stopwatch time studies for this purpose, but the confrontational and adversarial way he did it set the stage for decades of conflict with labor and ultimate defeat. While stopwatch time studies are the skill most associated in the public mind with industrial engineers (IEs), most university IE programs don’t even teach it anymore. Such studies are rarely conducted in manufacturing plants and, when they are, the results are so laden with allowances and fudge factors as to be meaningless.

The most commonly used alternative is predetermined time standards, mostly Maynard’s MTM or MOST, and the most effective way to analyze operations is not to time them directly with a stopwatch but to make video recordings and analyze them off line together with the operators involved. See Using Videos to Improve Operations, Parts 1 to 7. When doing this kind of work today, Taylor’s legacy is one of fear that must be overcome before starting.

A more enduring and positive Taylor legacy is his work on functional foremanship. While I have never seen a manufacturing organization follow his recommendations exactly, he defined a number of support functions for production that closely map the ones you do find today. What Taylor called a “Gang Boss” is now a Production Supervisor or an Area Coordinator; his “Speed Boss,” a process or manufacturing engineer; his “Routing Clerk,” the technical data manager; his “Shop Disciplinarian,” the Human Resource manager, etc. Taylor saw each production worker as having eight such functional foremen, which was obviously impractical and no one implemented. What remains is that, through the existing support departments, we can still see the categories he specified.

Taylor’s name is also often mistakenly associated with the invention of the assembly line. It was done at Ford, shortly before Taylor’s death in 1915, and he had nothing to do with it. His work is about individual operations, not end-to-end flow.

Taylor was also the first consultant. As a corporate executive, he was not successful, and found that he could make a living as an independent, selling advice instead. The profession he thus created has been a haven for corporate misfits ever since.

It is usually opponents of an approach who reduce it to an “-ism.” Taylor and his supporters talked about “Scientific Management,” which is an overstatement; labor unions that fought it called it “taylorism,” which makes it sound like an opinion or a movement and denies it has any objective basis. You don’t ever hear of “newtonism” or “einsteinism,” but evolution deniers talk about “darwinism.” Likewise, today, people who oppose the implementation of Lean or TPS call it “toyotism,” which, to them, has the added advantage of sounding ominously like “taylorism.”



Ford and Mass Production

In the TPS Principles and Practice group on LinkedIn asked about what mass production is and is not. With the loose talk of “Henry Ford’s Lean vision” going around, the confusion is understandable. In fact, the term “mass production” was coined specifically to describe Ford’s production system in an Encyclopedia Britannica article in 1926, and defined as follows:

“Mass production is the focusing upon a manufacturing project of the principles of power, accuracy, economy, system, continuity and speed.”

The article insists that “Mass production is not merely quantity production, for this may be had with none of the requisites of mass production. Nor is it merely machine production, which may exist without any resemblance to mass production.”

The encyclopedia article does not imply that the system was inflexible, but Ford’s system of that era was designed to build Model Ts and nothing else. Even though the following picture is from 1937, a decade after the end of the Model T era, the dense packing of presses makes you wonder how you were supposed to change dies:

Pressed steel building at the Rouge in 1937

Modern automotive press shops have machines arranged in lines, with space on the side for dies. In this shop, a die change had to be a rare event.

In essence, the term “mass production” is to Ford as “lean manufacturing” is to Toyota, a generic term applied to give broader appeal and generalize an approach developed in a specific company. It is not a derogatory term, and many elements of mass production found their way into TPS, along with parts of the “Taktsystem” from the German aircraft industry of the 1930s. To these external inputs, the Toyota people have been adding their own twists since the 1930s.


William S. Knudsen in World War II

Ford’s system itself evolved as it was adopted by competitors. As Peter Winton pointed out in the LinkedIn discussion, the original mass production was the production of large quantities of the same thing. As early as the 1920s, all the high-speed machines and lines dedicated to making the aging Model T at the River Rouge plant were both the strength and the Achilles heel of the system, giving GM the opportunity to grab market share away from Ford by, as Alfred P. Sloan put it “introducing the laws of Paris dressmakers in the car industry.” Ford alumnus William Knudsen’s “Flexible Mass Production” at Chevrolet made it possible through yearly model changes that could be completed in a few weeks. When Ford finally had to change from the Model T to the Model A in 1927, it required a thorough retooling of the Rouge plant, which took 9 months.

Ford’s system itself changed over the decades, and, at least as Lee Iacocca described its practices,  the financially minded leadership that emerged in the 1950s no longer focussed on improving production. In my review of Deming’s Point 5 of 14 on that topic, I had included the following pictures of the same operation performed the same way 30 years later:

In the 1988 paper in which he introduced the term “Lean production,” John Krafcik makes a distinction between “Pure Fordism” and “Recent Fordism,” the main difference being that “Recent Fordism” involves large inventories, buffers, and repair areas. This, of course, implies nothing about what the Ford people have done since 1988.

The concept of a dedicated production line — effective at making one product and incapable of making anything else — is in fact not obsolete. If you have a product with long-term, stable demand, it is a better solution than a flexible line whose flexibility you don’t need. This is why you do a runner/repeater/stranger analysis of the demand for your products, and then investigate trends and seasonal variations. In the Lean approach, you use a dedicated where it fits and other approaches where it doesn’t; most plants, instead, have a one-size-fits-all approach.

Stop ropes and Andons at Ford’s River Rouge Plant in 1931

Mark Warren pointed out to me the description of a stop rope with and Andon board in a book called Ford Men and Methods, by Edwin P. Norwood, with illustrations by Charles Sheeler, including his famous crossing conveyors.

First, on p. 1:

“Placed on one of many balconies to be found in the Rouge Plant Motors Building is a room, glassed on three sides and so located as to command a comparatively clear view of all that surrounds it. Along the back wall of this room stands an instrument board, studded with signal lights.

Aside from their visitor, two men are present. One, seated on a stool, is drawn close to a shallow desk which extends from the board. The other, a trouble mechanic, is intent upon that constant motion to be seen through the windows.

As you watch there comes the whir of a bell fixed to the top of the panel. The man at the desk moves a switch. The bell is silenced but in the same instant a green light glows in the face of the board. The operator waits-one eye on a clock that is near the bell, the other on the emerald light.

Five seconds, ten seconds, twenty seconds–then the light goes dark. Already the man’s finger is on a convenient button. He presses it twice and to your ears come the drawn-out wails of a distant siren. He touches a second button and somewhere a conveyor, temporarily “down,” goes into action again. You have had a fleeting glimpse of one of the control centers of that huge System of power-driven carriers that move throughout seemingly every nook and corner of the Dearborn shops.”

Following is a picture of an Andon board from Toyota Georgetown today:

Andon board at Toyota Georgetown

Unlike the example described above, it is not located in a control room but on the shop floor for production supervisors to see, and green lights are not used for alarms anymore. Perhaps, in 1931, the green-yellow-red color code had not yet become a cultural constraint.

Then on p. 10:

“The operator is provided with the means of protecting himself against accident or the chance of becoming swamped by a too rapid flow of work. If materials are coming too
fast, as at some point where there is a transfer from one line to another, or if an unlooked-for hitch tangles the smoothness of movement, any Workman is at liberty to bring that line at which he is engaged to a halt. Indeed, he is expected to do so. He does this by throwing a switch, or by reaching upward and pulling a  cord which operates similarly to that used for signaling the driver in a motor bus.

To make clearer this provision it may be well to return to the control booth touched upon at the beginning of the present chapter. The glowing of the green light noted at that time simply meant that somewhere some operator or foreman had pulled a stop switch. The trouble determining this action may have been a minor difficulty, or it may have been of serious import — possibly an actual breakdown of machinery. In such instances the probability is judged by the booth operator in accordance with the space of time that the signal light burns. If more than two minutes pass, then the trouble mechanic serving the affected section investigates the cause. And he knows where to go because of the number and position of the light on the instrument board. But if the light is extinguished within the permitted two minutes, this is because an electrical impulse meaning ‘All’s well’ has been sent in from the point of temporary trouble. It is then that the siren is sounded –a warning to all interested that the line is once more to move — while the pushing of the second button sends the conveyor into action again. But whatever the space of time may have been, the control operator tabulates both it and the point of trouble.”

Operator pulling a stop rope at Toyota Georgetown

Operator pulling a stop rope at Toyota Georgetown

The description of the stop rope matches exactly this picture from Toyota Georgetown, and it still resembles the cord on a city bus that you pull to tell the driver to let you off at the next stop.