Hi! Managers: Some (more) Process improvement pioneers
William Deming, Kaoru Ishikawa and Eiji Toyoda all played key roles in boosting efficiency in JapanLast month we looked at some very earlier pioneers of Process Improvement and by looking at their work could start to record some key words in our own Process Improvement Lexicon: Standardisa-tion, simplification, scientific study and management, and throughout, the belief that we can always increase our productivity.
We had concluded that chapter by looking at the incredible contribution of Henry Ford. But during the success of the Model T Ford, something strange started to happen, something that Ford could not understand for many years despite some forensic study: customers started to prefer their Model T Fords with Japanese transmissions rather than the transmissions from Ford themselves.
The genesis of this leads us directly to where The East started to contribute so much to the second half of the 20th century's Process Improvement evolutions; the focus on quality.
William Edwards Deming was an American statistician, professor, author, lecturer and consultant. However, he is regarded as having had more impact upon Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage. In 1960, having worked there for 10 years, he was awarded Japan's Order of the Sacred Treasure, Second Class. The citation on the medal recognises Deming's contributions to Japan's industrial rebirth and its worldwide success. His main philosophy was that if you focus on "quality" you can reduce costs, whereas if you focus only on costs, quality begins to decline.
Ford, finally, figured out why people wanted Japanese transmissions. Ford had made their transmissions to a tolerance of 1/8th of an inch. The Japanese made them at 1/16th of an inch, leading to a much smoother transmission than Ford's own.
Deming was the Godfather of Statistical Process Control and so began the age of the statisticians as a key and integral part of Process Improvement, especially related to quality.
Joseph Moses Juran was a 20th-century management consultant who is principally remembered as an evangelist for quality and quality management, having written several books on those subjects. He was invited by Japan to lecture on quality and made 10 trips there. He was noted for insisting that middle to upper management needed to focus on and practice quality and not just the working staff. Ten years after he taught this in Japan, it overtook the United States in quality leading to a long decline in the reputation of American product quality. He was also famous for popularising the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule.
--cause and effect
Prevalent in quality management in Japan during the same period was Kaoru Ishikawa. He was a Japanese university professor and influential quality management innovator best known in North America for the Ishikawa or cause and effect diagram (also known as fishbone diagram) that is used in the analysis of industrial process. He was also the founder of Quality Circles which seeks to form informal groups of workers who could make recommendations about how to improve processes to management. Through time, the senior management of their company would become more confident and supportive of these groups and eventually, through this virtuous cycle, would become autonomous groups leading to the early practice of LEAN thinking or constant, iterative improvement.
Of course it was Eiji Toyoda, a prominent Japanese industrialist who had been born into a family of textile manufacturers, who would take this to the next level. He was largely responsible for bringing Toyota Motor to profitability and worldwide prominence during his tenure as president and later chairman.
Toyoda had visited Henry Ford's Michigan plant during the early 1950s. He was stunned by the scale of the facility; Toyota Motor had been in the business of manufacturing cars for 13 years at that time and had produced just over 2,500 automobiles whereas the Ford plant manufactured 8,000 vehicles a day. Toyoda decided to adopt US automobile mass production methods but with a focus on quality.
Toyoda, with Taiichi Ohno, a loom machinist, developed what would become known as the 'Toyota Way'.
This included the concept of kaizen; a process of incremental but constant improvements designed to cut production and labour costs while boosting overall quality.
It was Shigeo Shingo who was widely - and wrongly - credited with inventing the Toyota Production System. Shingo had written his Study of The Toyota Production System in Japanese and had it translated into English in 1980. However it was a very poor translation.
Norman Bodek, an American entrepreneur and founder of Productivity Inc, had travelled to Japan to learn about the Toyota Production System, and had come across the books by Shingo. He arranged to translate Shingo's other books into English, eventually having his original study re-translated. Bodek also brought Shingo to lecture in the USA and developed one of the first Western lean manufacturing consultancy practices. It was for this reason that Shigeo Shingo was wrongly considered to be the founder of the Toyota Production System.
These pioneers introduced further key words to the Process Improvement Lexicon: Statistics (or the criticality of seeking data, using some methodology, to gain insight in to a process), quality focus (sometimes Process Improvement is considered only to relate to efficiency), effective management training and participation at all levels and continuous, iterative improvement. And, as always, the belief that we can always increase our productivity.
Andrew McBean is a partner at Grant Thornton Management Consulting, a unit of Grant Thornton Thailand. Follow his article every third Monday of the month. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org