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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  26 Feb 2010

MOTORING: Management "Sensei" to Share His Knowledge in SA


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John Shook is widely regarded as a true Lean Management "sensei". He worked for Toyota for some 11 years in Japan and the United States, helping it to successfully transfer Lean production, engineering and management systems from Japan to the famed NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc) plant in Fremont, California, and subsequently to other operations around the world. Shook will be sharing his knowledge and insights with the African business community at the fourth Lean Summit Africa, which takes place in Johannesburg for the first time this year, from October 6 to 8.

The aim of this annual event, which has previously been held in Cape Town, is to increase African business leaders' knowledge of Lean tools and promote the adoption of Lean as a means of improving product and service delivery while reducing costs, explains Professor Norman Faull, Managing Director of the Lean Institute Africa, the host of the Lean Summit Africa. “Lean Thinking - the management and production system invented by Toyota - is gaining devotees in service organizations, manufacturing businesses, logistics companies and supply chains. Its goal is described as ‘to get the right things to the right place at the right time, the first time, while minimizing waste and being open to change'. We are delighted to have confirmed John Shook as a presenter for this year,” he adds. "He is an internationally renowned Lean expert who will inspire Lean devotees as well as those who have not yet made the Lean leap."

Shook is credited with turning the renowned NUMMI plant from a dysfunctional disaster into a model manufacturing plant, with the very same workers. This plant, which was formerly a General Motors operation, became an experimental joint venture between Toyota and GM. Shook describes his work at NUMMI as "an incredible learning experience". "Before I could help Toyota teach anything to GM or anyone else, it had to teach me first. So, starting in 1983, Toyota put me to work at headquarters and at the Takaoka plant, NUMMI's 'mother' plant, that produced the Corolla. I worked on all the major processes of car assembly. Then, working with Japanese colleagues, I helped develop a training programme to introduce the Toyota system to the American employees of NUMMI. At the time, the work force in the old GM Fremont plant was considered to be an extraordinarily 'bad' one." Shook notes that they had a reputation for frequently going out on strike, filing many grievances and even sabotaging quality. Absenteeism routinely ran over 20%.

How Shook turned around this "bad" plant is a success story that's part of Lean history. An integral part of the process was Shook's assertion that the first step in changing culture is not changing how people think, but how they behave - what they do. A critical question that he'll be shedding light on at the Lean Summit Africa is "How can managers change the culture of their organisation?". "Start by changing what people do, rather than how they think," he states. "It's easier to act your way to a new way of thinking, than to think your way to a new way of acting."

Shook also stresses that employees should be given the means by which they can successfully do their jobs, and that a manager needs to recognise that the way problems are treated reflects corporate culture.

An industrial anthropologist and senior adviser to the Lean Enterprise Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Shook holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee, a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii, and is a graduate of the Japan-America Institute of Management Science. He is the author of, among other books, "Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process to Solve Problems" and "Gain Agreement, Mentor and Lead (Lean Enterprise Institute 2008)". As co-author of "Learning to See", Shook helped introduce the world to value-stream mapping. He also co-authored "Kaizen Express", a bi-lingual manual of the essential concepts and tools of the Toyota Production System. In his latest book "Managing to Learn", he describes the A3 management process that is at the heart of lean management and leadership.

While at Toyota's headquarters, Shook became the company's first American "kacho" (manager) in Japan. In the United States, he joined Toyota’s North American engineering, research and development centre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as general manager of administration and planning. His last position with Toyota was as senior American manager with the Toyota Supplier Support Centre in Lexington, Kentucky, assisting North American companies implement the Toyota Production System.

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