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WWII is basis for process improvement series

At the end of World War II, the Japanese thought we had won the war because of a secret weapon. It was not the atomic bomb, not superior strategy nor military might, it was whatever we did to ramp up our production of wartime goods as quickly as we did.

Preparation for the "next war" began in Europe and Asia in the 1920s. We did not start until the late 1930s; yes, we started before Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

President Roosevelt was faced with an isolationist Congress that even passed laws that forbade selling or giving military goods to foreign nations. He found a way around that by creating the Lend Lease Program in which we "leased" equipment to England, Russia and China. We even had "volunteers" build a road across the Himalayas, the Burma Road, so we could ship supplies to China from India.

Shipping lanes of the Pacific Ocean were not an option as they were controlled by the Japanese Navy. Air cover was supplied by another group of "volunteers" called the Flying Tigers. So we started to start building up our production of military equipment in about 1939.

My wife and I had a chance to tour Corregidor a few years ago. It is an island in the entrance of the Philippines' Manila Bay and due to its position, it has served as a focal point for the naval defenses of the capital city of Manila.

We began hollowing out the rock mountain in 1939 and built in living quarters, hospital, and a rail line that allowed us to move heavy guns in and out to shell enemy ships trying to get to Manila.

We were not totally unprepared for war, but after Pearl Harbor we began our ramp up of production in a big way.

Detroit stopped production of civilian cars and trucks in mid 1942 and started production of airplanes and trucks.

But what the Japanese viewed as our secret weapon was started by Stanford University. They put together a series of short courses for manufacturers of war goods using statistical methods to improve work processes.

It was based on the theory that all work consists of a series of processes and by improving those processes productivity, quality and output are improved.

They enlisted all the prominent statisticians in the country to teach, including Deming, Lewis, Grant and Olds. These courses were so popular that they quickly spread across the country. Within a relatively short time we had enough ships and airplanes to control the seas and air.

After VJ Day, MacArthur was named occupational commander of Japan and he found out he had 100 million starving people on his hands with whom he needed to be able to communicate directly. He sent for help in the form of someone who could lead the effort to rebuild the telephone system and someone else to lead the effort to build a wireless system.

This column and the next lay the foundation for the next series of articles on process improvement to reduce waste and rework and improve productivity.

Louis Schultz, managing director of Process Management LLC, has assisted organizations worldwide with performance improvement. He currently assists area business owners as a SCORE counselor. E-mail him with questions or comments at lou@processman