Competing – Noticing


I have been in business since 2000, working with over 60 companies to improve operations by using the Toyota Production and Management systems. During that time, I have seen potential achieved and too many organizations that never achieved their potential. Over the next few minutes I will give you my definitions of what I consider to be effective implementations of Toyota (or Lean) principles. Then I will compare and contrast my experiences.

I will use examples of companies on “the Shingo prize path” which I will refer to as the “Shingo Way” (apologies to Dr. Jeff Liker and his wonderful book “The Toyota Way” and of hero and tool focused implementations which rarely achieve potential.

In a past podcast “the Stages of Lean and the Art of Kaizen” I spoke of five stages of Lean implementation.

1. Beginner (1 to 3 months) – implemented one Value Stream Map “future state” and are experiencing the “honeymoon effect”. Improvement is daily, and progress is fast. Some training has been given, but implementation is primarily carried out by a group of “heroes” and, therefore, is not sustainable. The program is “theirs”…..owned and operated by a select few.

? Beginner – the Shingo Way…..everyone has been trained in the Basics of Lean, 5S, work standardization, waste identification and problem solving. Management and Leadership are present throughout the training process, clearly and consistently showing support and explaining why. Improvement is perhaps not as rapid as the hero focused process, but we are building a sustainable culture of continuous improvement.

2. Stalling (3 to 9 months)– dealing with the post-honeymoon condition. Lean isn’t as much fun and is no longer new. It still makes sense, but it’s getting a little stale. You get what you measure. What are you measuring?

Stalling – the Shingo Way – the Scientific Method (Plan>Do>Check>Adjust) is used daily. Project and performance status are posted and everyone knows what the postings mean and how they can affect them. As long as we use the Scientific Method daily, stalling cannot occur. Progress is steady and culture continues to build.

3. Stalled (9 to 15 months)– Lean is part of how we do business, but aren’t we Lean now? “Why do we have to continuously improve? We are better than our competition.” What has been standardized? What are you measuring?

Stalled – the Shingo Way – we know we have a long, long way to go to achieve world-class competitiveness. We continue to train our people, develop work standardization and continuously improve operations. Each morning Leadership/Management/Supervision perform a focused “Gemba Walk”. The Scientific Method is now a way of work-life.

4. Re-emergence (12 to 24 months) – perhaps stimulated by some competitive failure, followed by deep soul searching, commitment and delivery of a carefully audited plan. Not making it to this step defines failure. All companies will stall sometime, some worse than others, it’s how they emerge that will make the difference. Courage, commitment and integrity are the keys.

Re-emergence – the Shingo Way – no need to re-emerge. We have worked diligently identifying and eliminating waste. Though we do experience failures, they are infrequent, root cause is quickly and effectively identified and counter-measures put in place to eliminate or reduce the impact of the problem should it occur again.

5. Sustainability – the entrance to the “promised land” is in sight. We constantly audit our standardization, measure and post key results. Continuous improvement is a natural component of our workday and an expectation of all employees. By the way, don’t expect to ever get to the “promised land” but never quit trying.

Sustainability – the Shingo Way – Our leadership enables and empowers all employees. We document measurable improvement continuously occurring in our business. We are part of the world economy, with respect to the community, environment, operational excellence and business performance.

a. Shingo Bronze Medallion recipients would most likely be characterized as having demonstrated strong application of Lean tools in the most critical areas of their challenging value stream.
b. Shingo Silver Medallion recipients must clearly have overlaid the tools with quality systems of management to ensure tool application is appropriate, value adding, consistent and continuously improving.
c. The Shingo Prize recipients will have a deeply embedded culture of Lean as evidenced by full deployment of Lean; Principles, systems and tools, across the entire value steam, from senior management down and across all of the critical support functions associated with the challenging entity.

Using the Shingo Prize criteria as improvement targets reduces confusion, clarifies objectives and provides profoundly useful feedback. Several times I have been told that a business is world-class, that they are just about as good as they can get and improvements will occur in spasms as reaction to operational pain or customer complaint. The Shingo Prize criteria provides a standardized model for defining excellence, a feedback system documenting your strengths and weaknesses and a real opportunity to achieve world-class status in the eyes of the world.


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