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Interview: Norman Bodek, the Quality Missionary

Quality guru is among Industry Week’s 2010 manufacturing “dream team”

Published: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - 05:00

Recently, Industry Week (IW) announced the 10 inductees to its 2010 Manufacturing Hall of Fame, a “lineup of industrial superstars whose collective careers have had an immeasurable impact and influence on U.S. manufacturing.”

Included in the list of IW’s manufacturing “dream team,” alongside businessman and author Larry Bossidy and computer magnate Michael Dell, is Norman Bodek, a name that those of us in the quality world have long been familiar with. Bodek is co-founder of the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence and is responsible for bringing scores of books and articles on kaizen blitz, single-minute exchange of dies (SMED), total productive maintenance, quality function deployment, hoshin kanri, poka-yoke, and the visual factory to a U.S. audience. And as anyone who has ever listened to Bodek speak can attest, he is as entertaining as he is informative.

In an interview with Quality Digest Daily, Bodek tells us what the Industry Week honor means to him and his views on the future of the quality profession.

Quality Digest Daily: First, obviously, what does it mean to you to be given this honor, in terms of validating your ideas or work?
Norman Bodek: I am on a mission to teach teachers (managers) how to teach students (employees) how to be successful in life. I have discovered an amazing Harada Method that has been taught to more than 50,000 people in Japan. I am working on a book with Takashi Harada and feel this new process can help many people have a much more productive and full life. The honor gives me more credibility for people to look at and consider adopting my latest discoveries to help them and their employees.

Editor’s note: You can hear more on Bodek and the Harada Method by listening to this podcast.

QDD: Why do you think Industry Week chose you to be part of its 2010 Dream Team?
Bodek: Industry Week has played a key role in my life. Back in 1980, I attended an Industry Week conference in New York, where I heard Joji Arai, manager with Japan Productivity Center, talk about his role in bringing Japanese businesspeople to study U.S. industry. I asked Arai if he would do the reverse and let me bring American executives to Japan to study the best of Japanese management practices. He agreed and set up my first study mission, one of more than 50 during the past 30 years. The missions introduced me to the great teachers: Shingo, Ohno, Arai, Ishikawa, Fukuda, Nakamura, and others. After meeting them they agreed to let me publish their books in English; 100 Japanese books were eventually produced.

Industry Week recognized my contribution to advancing U.S. productivity and quality from my 76 visits to Japan and discovering all the marvelous lean tools.

QDD: How did you find your way into productivity as your calling?
Bodek: It was a miracle. The day after my birthday in 1979, I read TheNew York Times and saw that productivity had declined in the United States while Japan’s productivity growth rate was about 9 percent per year. I then started to study what productivity meant and how important it was to the quality of life in the country. Productivity means making more goods and services to share with each other—it is a wonderful word, unfortunately misused sometimes.

QDD: How does your work dovetail with the other inductees, such as Larry Bossidy and Michael Dell?
Bodek: It is a privilege for me to be included with such famous people. Bossidy has been a leader in productivity improvement in the United States, and Dell grew his computer company to be one of the largest in the world. Both deserve recognition. I would only hope that the leaders of U.S. industry would look more closely at helping to change the nature of work so that people feel more fulfilled and valued at the workplace. Work should be a process of unending growth, and the company should be a university of learning, not a place to just have a job and do boring, repetitive things. We should be looking more closely at companies such as Canon, Toyota, and Volkswagen to see how they are enriching work.

QDD: Some have said that outsourcing seems to be reversing. Do you agree?
Bodek: Outsourcing brought wealth to China, India, Mexico, and other developing countries but was done with only short-term vision by American managers who neglected to help workers in the United States build new skills. Through innovation we can find much better jobs than the ones that we have outsourced, but we must make the investment in U.S. workers. I don’t think we have seen the end of outsourcing, but I do hope we revitalize U.S. industry by looking at education, alternative energy, saving the globe from deterioration, improving health for ourselves and the world, finding ways to end the overseas wars, revisiting the fundamental principles of our democracy, and looking for ways to improve quality of life for everyone.

QDD: Service industries have learned a lot from manufacturing. Is there anything that manufacturers can learn from service industries?
Bodek: Manufacturing should look more closely look at customers’ needs and aspirations. We surely need better customer service. Most companies understand the need for better customer service but actually treat it as a joke. If you really appreciated your customers, you wouldn’t continue to have a computer answer the phone, keep them on the line, and act as if you didn’t want them to bother you. As an experiment, try to contact a senior executive of one of our giant corporations. Can you find him? To innovate you need to have direct contact with your customers to discover what they need. How can you discover that when you don’t even talk to them? Toyota would never have had its quality problems if its top management was in daily contact with its customers. I feel Toyota’s recent problems will cause it to be a better and stronger company if its leaders learn how to more carefully listen to their customers.


About The Author

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest’s picture

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

Dirk Dusharme is Quality Digest’s editor in chief.