I waited until the end of the session and told the guest speaker that not all of the pioneers
were rolling in their graves, since Richard Muther was 95 years old and still alive at the time.
After speaking to a colleague, we both decided to research the genesis of the so-called “Japanese” tools
that were being used and propagated as the latest and greatest tools — kaizen, gemba, shikumi diagrams, yamazumi charts.
We quickly realized that most of these were tools that were originally developed in the USA and Europe.
In the early stages of our research, we noticed confusing and mixed signals. Leaders driving company
transformation had strong conviction that they needed these totally new-sounding tools to drive a culture change. On the flip
side, there was strong resentment from the doers and practitioners to the tools with unintelligible foreign names and they
had no way to relate these “new tools” to the tools and techniques they already knew.
We had a chat with Richard “Dick” Muther, one of the pioneers of industrial engineering prior to his
death in October 2014 — just a few weeks short of his 100th birthday. Dick was not troubled that the tool he created
in the early 1940’s was being introduced as a “shikumi “diagram. He stated that people will rebrand with
new names and we cannot stop that. Dick related an event time that made him chuckle: he was invited by the Chinese government
to deliver training. The following year, they invited the Japanese to do the same. The Japanese used Muther’s text and
methodology to teach the same subject!
We discovered over twenty existing tools that
came back to the USA under the umbrella of “Lean” with new names. For example, the relationship diagram, developed
by Muther in the 1940s to enable systematic analysis and design of layouts to minimize movement, was renamed “shikumi
diagram” by the Japanese. In fairness to the Japanese, they renamed it so that their people could understand the concept.
This tool was brought back to the USA with two names: shikumi diagram and spaghetti diagram.
Next we tried to assess the impact of introducing these rebranded tools — did they succeed in a sustained transformed
culture? Feedback from most of our clients, sessions in professional groups, and articles in professional publications
indicate that success has been very limited despite the tools being the same. Instead, we realized that the unsuccessful programs
have done significant damage —
In order to overcome this
damage, we started offering the seminar Back to Basics of Operational Excellence, based on sound industrial engineering principles.
During sessions, we often hear company leaders saying:
We drove change without
the buy-in from the doers.
We drove constant change rather than continuously improving.
We need to start focusing on our business problems rather than on tools.
see the need to use the language our people speak.