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March 25, 2003             


A Magical Moment with Dr. Shigeo Shingo--

Ask the Right Question

Once, when walking through a Dresser factory with Dr. Shigeo Shingo and a group of engineers, he stopped in front of a punch press and watched two workers loading and unloading sheet metal. He looked at his stopwatch and asked, "What percentage of the time are they adding value and what percentage of the time are they adding waste?"

One engineer said, "100%, they are always working." Another said, "Only 70%." Another said, "50%." Dr. Shingo laughed and said, "Only 14%. It is only when the press is bending the metal are we adding value the rest is waste."

Then the key moment came as Dr. Shingo asked, "What can you do to improve the ratio?"

One engineer spoke immediately, "You can put the blank sheets onto a leveler, like dishes in a cafeteria, keeping the steel always at the height of the press and reducing the bending time to pick up a sheet." Another engineer said, "You can put a spring at the back of the press to automatically reject the formed sheet after the operation so the worker doesn't have to reach into the the press."

The genius in Dr. Shingo was to understand what waste was and to stay focused on its removal. And he knew that there was real power in asking the right question and not in just telling people what to do.

-- Norman Bodek

Historical Note:

Dr. Shigeo Shingo and Taiichi Ohno were partners in developing the Toyota Production System, now known as Lean Manufacturing. Ohno provided the vision and the drive; Dr. Shingo solved the practical problems and translated Ohno's vision into reality. Norman Bodek first published Shingo's work in English, brought him to the U.S. and was instrumental in disseminating Toyota concepts. -QL

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