Exploring Lean Manufacturing Principles: A Conversation with Norman Bodek – LeanBlog Podcast #1


Here is my first LeanBlog Podcast, featuring author and consultant Norman Bodek, President of PCS Press.

I have to give credit for the idea to Norman, as he approached me about doing a series of audio interviews as a follow up to and continuation of our Q&A that I posted here on the blog earlier this year.

I'll take credit for turning it into a podcast, something that I plan on making a regular feature, every month or so. There will be additional conversations with Norman, and I also plan on interviewing other lean leaders and innovators.

Visit the main page for all episodes and information about how to subscribe.

LeanBlog Podcast #1 Show Notes and Timeline:

  • Introduction to the Podcast (until 2:22)
  • The difference between kaizen and kaizen events, early history of bringing the kaizen blitz (“kaikaku”) to America (starting at 3:18)
  • Early development of employee suggestion systems (4:18)
  • Difference between suggestion systems and “cost savings systems” (5:00)
  • How Toyota started their suggestion system of “small, little ideas” (5:26)
  • There is a point where the audio is poor, Norman says at 6:00, “…ideas per employee per year, one per month, one per month implemented idea per employee. So, that represented millions of ideas. In fact, I published a book once…”
  • Norman mentions an early book, 40 Years, 20 Million Ideas: The Toyota Suggestion System, now out of print, but available used through amazon.com, albeit at a rare book price. Then, the audio improves again.
  • How do you “manage 1800 ideas” per month? (6:40)
  • Norman's experiences with Gulfstream and employee suggestions (8:30)
  • How kaizen is not a bureaucratic system (10:40)
  • What are the proper incentives for employee suggestions? (11:40)
  • What are the two pillars of TPS? (13:05)
  • How do you “keep score” with employee suggestions? (14:15)
  • How do you balance between kaizen and standard work? (14:40)
  • What is your role as a supervisor with employee suggestions? (15:40 and 22:30)
  • How has Toyota changed their suggestion system over time? (16:50)
  • Why giving $20 an idea was a problem (18:15)
  • Proof that Toyota sometimes makes mistakes – but improves! (18:50)
  • Focusing on “implementations” as opposed to “suggestions” (21:05)
  • What happens when you criticize a suggestion? (23:00)

Here is a blog entry that Norman wrote about the podcast, with additional thoughts:

“Mark Graban interviewed me this past week for his first Podcast.  We talk about my discovery of Quick and Easy Kaizen, how it was the heart of the Toyota system – getting all employees involved in continuous improvement.  The puzzle to me is why every company doesn't add this most valuable process to their management lexicon.  We say that “People are our most valuable asset.” but we do very little to develop that asset to its fullest.   

China does represent short-term labor savings but in the long term we are giving away our companies to them.   This week I was watching parts of the  Tour de France bicycle race on television and saw one of the leaders on a Giant bike.

At one time over fifteen years ago, Schwinn was probably America's leading bicycle company.  They went to Taiwan to manufacture their bikes to take advantage of the low labor cost.  The company in Taiwan was Giant.  Initially, Schwinn wanted to reduce their assembly costs but Giant convinced them to also save money on engineering and every other phase of manufacturing and design.  After ten years or so when the initial contract was over, Giant told Schwinn, “We don't need you anymore.  We know how to make great bikes, you taught us how.”  All we have to do is learn how to market the bikes.  “Shortly, thereafter Schwinn went bankrupt and sold their “name,” to another American company.

Unfortunately, we are great in short term thinking.  Toyota recognizes the threat from China but they are building more and more automobiles in America.  If they can do it why can't other American companies do it?  To me, the only difference in Toyota and American manufacturers is that Toyota develops their people and the best way to develop people is from their own creative ideas.

Please do listen to the podcast…

And give me some feedback,

Thank you”

Here is an amazon.com link to Norman Bodek's Books.

My announcer is my old friend, Steve Sholtes, a musician from Michigan.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mark:

    In this first podcast, in reply to your important (and practical) question of the interplay between implementation of worker suggestions and standards, Norm’s response was that implementation of suggestions had nothing to do with standards. That comment puzzled me when I first heard it and it is still puzzling.

    Isn’t the whole idea of getting and implementing suggestions and having the production workers constantly problem solving a key element of the continuous improvement element of standards? Today’s standard should be changed tomorrow if it is improved—right? If you don’t incorporate implemented suggestions into new standards then you have the makings for chaos—and everyone doing it their own way. Surely, that is not what Norm meant.


  2. To be fair, Norman said that workers need to check with other shifts when they have an idea, that people can’t work in a vacuum.

    He also said (at approximately 15:10) “If somebody comes up with a better way, you change the standard. Most of these little ideas have nothing to do with the standards.”

    I’ll let Norman explain the difference between updating standards and “little ideas” in a comment and in a future podcast.

  3. From Norman Bodek:

    This is not a simple issue and something we could address in the next podcast:

    Toyota does standardized work whereby the best way to do some things becomes the standard. Workers are required to follow those standards precisely unless they can come up with a better way. Standards are the way to do things, the procedures, or they are the exact measures, or tolerances, to follow. There are very few companies comparable to Toyota with standardized work. Quick and Easy Kaizen asks every worker to find a way to make their work easiier, more interesting, build their skills and capabiities and to improve the work environment. They might but they rarely affect standards. I published a book titled Forty Million Ideas in Twenty Years at Toyota. Very few of these idea affect the standards. I should not have said, “that implementation of suggestions had nothing to do with standards.” At Technicolor they implemented 17,500 suggestions last year. At Gulfstream they are implementing 2000 ideas per month, very few of trhese affect standards as we know them.

    It really depends on what level you standardize. If you do 100% like stating exactly how the towel is to be folded on the rack, how you are to stand, etc. than yes you must be very careful with new standards but most companies are light years away. At one time Toyota was getting around 70 ideas per worker per year, today they are around 10 in Japan. Still I feel that very few of those affect the standardized work.

    Let us talk more about this.



  4. Hi Norman,

    It seems many of us North American CI zealots are led to believe in many versions of the Toyota story that they do utilize standards that are continuously updated by the workers within an “enabling bureaucracy.” That is, rigid standards are adhered to as a countermeasure to variability, but workers are encouraged to make incremental improvements to the standard through the formal suggestion system.

    Unless I’m misunderstanding your statement you are suggesting this not the case. So the next question is, does Toyota standardize 100% or as you stated: “exactly how the towel is to be folded on the rack”? If this is so, then it is any easy assumption that a change in “how to fold the towel” suggests that a change in the standard work is in order. Take this one step further: if the change is a simple 5S improvement, or safety improvement, or elimination of a step, or simple rearrangement of the work sequence, would that not demand a change of the standard work sheet? Another step further; wouldn’t a standard be required in order to positively transfer the knowledge of the improvement, via Toyota’s famed Job Instruction training methods? Or is this just grand assumptions or wishful thinking of an organizational ideal on my behalf?

    Thanks for your insight,
    Bryan L.

  5. Thanks for your comment Bryan. I’ve passed that along to Norman and we can maybe address that in a future podcast. Please email me directly, as I’d like to bounce an idea off of you about participating in the podcast somehow.



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