LeanBlog Podcast #32 – Norman Bodek on His Most Recent Lean Study Trip to Japan


LeanBlog Podcast #32 once again features our friend and frequent guest, Norman Bodek, noted lean author, consultant, and President of PCS Press. In this episode, Norman talks about his recent study trip to Japan and what he saw there. If you enjoy this podcast, I hope you'll check out the rest of the series by visiting the LeanBlog podcast main page.

Keywords and Main Points, Episode #32

  • Trip to Japan
  • The use of videotape to analyze the process to look for waste, with the employees
  • The purpose of standard work (and kaizen)
  • Going after waste relentlessly
  • People writing down that they make mistakes
  • Shingo said, “we make mistakes, but we don't want defects”
  • “Poka yoke” and error proofing
  • The use of automation and temporary labor
  • Norman — “how ROI, short-term thinking is killing America”
  • Norman is going on another study mission in April 2008 — go with him! Contact Norman through his website at pcspress.com about that

If you have feedback on the podcast, or any questions for me or my guests, you can email me at leanpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave a voicemail by calling the “Lean Line” at (817) 993-0630 or contact me via Skype id “mgraban”. Please give your location and your first name. Any comments (email or voicemail) might be used in follow ups to the podcast.

Click here for the main LeanBlog Podcast page with all previous episodes.

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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. Awesome podcast, Mark, just awesome. I’m sitting here on a Saturday afternoon, really fascinated with what Norman observed and had to say. We owe much to Norman and what he has done for Lean in the US. And, like most Lean practitioners, he too never quits learning and changing, as evidenced in his observations.

    Thanks a ton, Mark, for making this available!!

  2. Great podcast. I hope in the near future Norman can expand on his comment about short term ROI killing America.

    Also extremely curious about Japan outsourcing to China and increasing temporary workers. Seems like a distressing trend for those of us trying to convince leadership that chasing cheap labor is not the answer!

  3. To Bryan:

    Inventory to Mr. Ohno was the biggest waste and he started a lot of his
    initial efforts to reduce inventory. Prior to his thinking most managers
    considered inventory a valuable asset for Wall Street loved it. The more
    inventory you produced the higher your profits. You did not have to sell
    your products. For example, GM made over 5 billion around three years ago
    and lost close to 14 billion the next – they couldn’t sell what they made.

    To me ROI is the same. What is a reasonable expectation for your return on
    investments? When I went to NYU Graduate School of Business we were taught
    to factor in the interest cost to borrow and the expected rate of return of
    your capital invested. The Japanese continually look at the long term and
    their ROI reflects that. Too often in America we want very fast ROI ¹s,
    which keeps us looking at this quarter. An example is Dana Corporation
    where every manager knew they were measured on ROI. Dana went bankrupt.

    Fast return on investments is good for the stockholder but can be bad for
    the company in the long term. I feel that is a prime reason we have lost so
    much business to Japan, China, Korea, etc.

    Cheap labor might have some factor but if Toyota can do it here, make cars
    in America, then so can we if we are willing to make sacrifices for the long

    Chasing cheap labor is very inviting and hard to turn down, but it is part
    of this short-term thinking and it is “selling America short.”

    It is much better to wring out the wastes, get all employees empowered and
    trained in problem solving activities to demonstrate that we can compete
    internationally. Wring out this waste before you consider closing plants
    and going overseas.

    The Japanese companies are faced with fierce competition with Korea, China
    and other low cost countries but they don’t want to sell Japan short. I
    believe their approaches are:

    1. Automate everything possible for those machines running night and day
    can easily compete with cheap labor.
    2. Use part time employees in the non-skilled jobs. This protects the
    permanent employees. I saw that at the factories where part time workers
    were doing the repetitive tasks and the skilled permanent employees were
    repairing the machines, doing the complicated assembly work, the inspection,
    the design engineering, etc. Part time people can only work for a maximum of
    three years in a company in Japan. The part time employee does not receive
    the same training and development as the permanent employees. It is not easy
    on the part time employees, at all, but it does give the companies an
    opportunity to automate those unskilled tasks.

    I believe that Toyota is still probably one of the best manufacturing
    companies to work for in Japan.

    I recommend two books: Rebirth of American Industry, which covers the first
    issue and my new book by Dr. Shingo Kaizen and the Art of Creative Thinking.
    Shingo was a great master. His new book shows you how to develop your
    employees from their ability to identify and solve problems. It is a jewel.

    Best wishes,
    Norman Bodek


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