Nov 4 2011
Nov 3 2011
Via Scoop.it – lean manufacturing
It is a curious fact that in industry after industry there is at least one company that appears to succeed not by doing the same thing better than everyone else but by playing a completely different game.
Nov 3 2011
In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the hero’s nemesis is an academic who constantly lectures on historical details that he often gets wrong. Introductions to Lean, nowadays, often include a section on history, but no source is quoted, there are many inconsistencies with otherwise known facts, and some of the interpretations are confusing.
Manufacturing practices are like life forms. Some appear and go extinct, while others endure forever. Some 2-billion-year old fossils on the shore of Lake Superior match living organisms in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef today. Likewise, some of the oldest ideas on making things are still practiced today. Knowing who developed what techniques when and why is not just about giving credit. Not only does it occasionally make us rediscover a lost art, like TWI, but it also helps us understand its current relevance.
Getting the timeline right matters because of causality; causality, because it explains motivation; motivation, because it determines current relevance. People invent solutions because they have problems. If we are still facing the same problems, we can adopt or adapt their solutions. The people of Toyota found solutions to overcome crises throughout the life of the company, which eventually coalesced into a system, as explained by Takahiro Fujimoto. Their techniques are easiest to understand within their historical context.
The history of manufacturing is poorly documented. We know the exact wording of speeches made by Cicero in the Roman senate in 63 BCE, but we don’t know how the Romans made standard swords, spears, helmets, and other weapons to sustain hundreds of thousands of legionnaires in the field (See Figure 1). Documenting how things were made has never been a priority of historians, and they rarely have the technical knowledge needed.
Figure 1. Cicero and a Roman soldier
Official histories are not to be trusted. School children throughout the world sit through classes where they hear an official account of history intended to create shared narratives. With titles like “Call to freedom,” the manuals make no pretense at objectivity (See Figure 2). In business, it is even worse: official histories are spun by the Public Relations departments of the companies that became dominant in their markets.
The real stories are found in the products, facilities, and documents left over from operations. Jim Womack can still visit today the hall where Venetians assembled galleys 500 years ago. Examining sewing machines at the Smithsonian, David Hounshell noticed that Singer stopped engraving machine serial numbers on parts around 1880, from which he deduces that they mastered interchangeable parts at that time. From memoirs, memos, drawings, specs, photographs and movies we can also infer the methods that were used and the conflicts that took place.
Most of us cannot do this research; we rely on professional historians. They quote their sources, infer cautiously from the facts, and don’t attempt to answer all questions. By contrast, white belts at history produce glib narratives, make up dialogs among historical figures, and presume to know their inner thoughts. As readers, we should tell the difference.
Did Sakichi Toyoda visit Ford in 1911? Several of the historical notes on Lean claim that he did, but there is no mention of such a visit in Mass and Robertson’s essay on the life of Sakichi Toyoda. According to their account, Sakichi Toyoda did visit the US and the UK in 1910, to see textile plants and apply for patents, and was back in Japan by January, 1911. Even if he did come in 1911, we may wonder what he might have been impressed with, considering that the first assembly line didn’t start until two years later.
Some of these accounts also state that Sakichi Toyoda invented an automatic loom in 1902. According to other accounts, his work at that time was on narrow steam-powered looms, and his first successful automatic loom was the Type G in 1924, which included a shuttle-change system developed by his son Kiichiro, who later founded the Toyota car company with the proceeds from the sale of the Type G patent in the UK.
Did Henry Ford invent Lean? Many accounts claim he did. This is puzzling because the term Mass Production was coined specifically to describe the Ford system. If Ford invented Lean, then Lean Manufacturing and Mass Production are the same, and we are wasting our time explaining how they differ. If Henry Ford invented Lean, then Issac Newton came up with relativity.
Nov 2 2011
I just wish we would talk more about Temple Grandin’s work than her autism. Like Sakichi Toyoda with looms, she focused on one of the oldest economic activities, raising cattle, and made it better by observing details nobody else cared about. Even for a non-cowboy, her Humane Livestock Handling is fascinating. Professionally, autism may have hindered or helped her. In any case, it is something she was born with, not something she accomplished. Having >50% of all cattle handling facilities in the US based on her designs is an accomplishment.
Nov 1 2011
To be useful, a metaphor must help understanding. For the promoters of Six Sigma to call their certification Black Belt was marketing genius. A more descriptive label might have been Staff Statistician, but what self-respecting manufacturing professional would want to be that? Borrowing a term from Japanese martial arts not only appealed to their fighting spirit, but also gave the impression that an approach developed at Motorola in the US had a connection with Japan, ground-zero of manufacturing excellence. Even in Japan, Black Belt (“Kuroto”) and White Belt (“Shiroto”) have migrated from martial arts to everyday language, to designate respectively a real pro and an amateur.
As a metaphor, Black Belt also made sense because there is a parallel between the Six Sigma and martial arts training programs. Traditional masters in the martial arts of China trained one or two disciples at the Bruce Lee level in a lifetime, just as universities trained only a handful of experts in statistical design of experiments that could be effective in electronics manufacturing. One Karate instructor, on the other hand, can train hundreds of Black Belts, just as a Six Sigma program can teach a focused subset of statistical design of experiments to hundreds of engineers.
Scrum, in software development, is also a sports metaphor, a term borrowed from rugby, which few Americans know. The connection between a rugby scrum and what software people call by the same name, however, is not obvious. A rugby scrum involves the forward players of two teams locked in the pattern of Figure 1.
Figure 1. A rugby scrum
The ball is released in the middle of the scrum and both team try to take possession by kicking it backwards while pushing the other team forwards. It is exciting and bruising to participate in, as well as a great spectacle. For software developers, scrum is an approach to project management illustrated by the status panel in Figure 2.
Figure 2. A software development scrum
It leaves you wondering what plays the role of the opposing team, the ball, or the player positions. In other words, in what way is a rugby scrum a metaphor for this approach at all?