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May 2004

Over 100 years ago Frederick Winslow Taylor’s time studies and “laws and principles” of scientific management changed how workers were paid, introduced a new division of labor and expanded and strengthened the role of management. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth’s motion studies focused on how the work was done, and how to eliminate unneeded, fatiguing steps in any process.

They wanted “flow” manufacturing to take place but they did not want workers to stop and think. And through their work productivity climbed substantially allowing Henry Ford to produce an automobile in four days from iron ore to the finished car being put onto the railroad cars. Modern manufacturing was born.

Norman Bodek
PCS Press
Both Taylor and the Gilbreth’s eliminated decision making processes from workers. They recognized that when workers were undecided and stopped to think tension and fatigue entered. Work was simplified and skills were automated. People were asked to “check their brains at the door.”

The pressure for solving problems was then placed on management. But in the process thousands of simple and small problems were neglected, quality suffered, worker’s dignity suffered, and the workplace was dehumanized.

Workers in the West did repetitive tasks and became attendants of machines. Taylor and Gilbreth wanted flow but workers here would stand and watch machines. It was deadly.

Dr. Shigeo Shingo, an independent consultant, and Taiichi Ohno, vice-president of production at Toyota, restudied the work of Taylor, Ford and the Gilbreth’s and clearly understood the power of flow manufacturing. They also discovered a powerful ‘missing ingredient,” the worker on the factory floor is really the expert on the job, rarely ever asked to be creatively involved in solving problems. To be internationally competitive this waste of human resources had to end.

Shingo and Ohno the creators of The Toyota Production System/Lean like Taylor and Gilbreth wanted both a productive workplace and flow manufacturing. They did not want the worker to stand, wait and attend machines. They wanted workers to use both hands and move continually working multi-machines in the factory.

I have been to over 250 plants in these past twenty years. In America I still see people standing and watching machines. I have never seen this at Toyota.

How in the world can you expect to get continuous improvement without worker participation? How in the world can you attain six sigma without worker participation? How in the world can you expect to have a lean organization without full worker participation?


Many of you have run Kaizen Blitz activities and seen the success when people work on teams focused on value adding and the elimination of wastes. What makes the Kaizen Blitz successful and exciting is that you are getting teams of people working together to improve the process and solving problems.

The individual is almost hopeless in his/her ability to bring meaningful change. People are fearful and resist change. I meet so many people that have a million reasons why something should not be done.

As Lean was created at Toyota the worker was directly involved:

  1. Whenever a problem was detected the worker either pulled a chain or pushed a button to stop the line – yes, they stopped other workers from working. Imagine the power given to a worker to stop others from working. Toyota was serious. Defects will not be passed onto the customer. The worker was asked to immediately detect the cause of the problem, solve it and also get to the root cause so that the problem would not occur again. Toyota wanted the exact same “Flow” as Taylor and Gilbreth. They did not want the worker to think on the job except when a problem occurred. They realized that the worker on the floor has brains and that those brains were required to help solve problems.

  2. Toyota also recognized that many problems could not be solved immediately so they asked their workers to come up with small improvement ideas to help solve problems around their work area. In fact, Toyota was getting 70 ideas per worker per year in writing. And Toyota noted for making junk in 1960 became the world’s highest quality producer, in fact, the richest automotive company in the world. Today, Toyota’s stock is worth more then General Motors, Ford and Chrysler/Benz combined.

And it all happened as they involved every person at Toyota in continuous improvement activities.

Technicolor Corporation in Detroit two years ago received 250 suggestions with 113 implemented from around 1800 employees. This past year they received 16,999 with 7,443 implemented with no additional staffing to handle the ideas. They are small ideas and the person who came up with the idea is the one who normally implements them either them selves or in their work teams. Technicolor has saved over $10,000,000 from those ideas. And imagine how the worker feels about themselves when they are respected for their intelligence? And imagine how management now looks at those creative workers working for them.

Yes, you can have flow manufacturing and also a lively creative work environment.

Taylor and Gilbreth were necessary and a vital part of America’s success but you must update them. In order for us to compete with the Chinese and Indians, we must improve every worker’s skill level and also ask them to participate in creative problem solving. It is the only way that Lean will work. It is the only way to create a work environment for human beings.


Norman Bodek started Productivity Inc., Productivity Press, and also the Shingo Prize. In the early 1980’s he met Dr. Shingo, Mr. Ohno, and other great manufacturing geniuses, and published their books in English. He brought to the West Lean, JIT, Kanban, 5S, SMED, TPM, QFD, Hoshin, CEDAC, the Kaizen Blitz, and other powerful improvement tools and techniques.

Norman recently wrote and published his second book, Kaikaku - The Power and Magic of Lean (this is the NWLEAN Book of the Month for June '04!). His first book was co-authored with Bunji Tozawa, The Idea Generator – Quick and Easy Kaizen. Norman is the President of PCS Press, a consultant, and has written over 60 articles on Lean.

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