Best Plants, Lean Benchmarks and Role Models

Industry Week magazine has announced the 10 winners of this year’s Best Plants awards. It’s a diverse group of manufacturing sites in the U.S. and Mexico, ranging in size from 68 to 1,751 employees, and making a wide range of products. Their accomplishments include significant improvements in cycle time, order-to-shipment time and on-time delivery.

            Not surprisingly, a lean strategy is a core element of operations at virtually all of the facilities. That’s a fact I hope can influence those companies that may be considering a lean approach but are skeptical about what it can do for them.

            The Best Plants awards, which Industry Week has been giving out for many years, serve as a valuable recognition of what’s right about manufacturing, as well as a testament to the value of lean principles.

            But the awards do have their limitations. They recognize individual factories, not entire companies (something that is also largely true of the Shingo Prize). They don’t single out individuals who may have played key roles in transforming their facilities.

            I’m not suggesting that the awards, or the processes leading up to them, be changed in any way. They were designed to be exactly what they are, and that’s fine.

            I only wish that someone would come up with other types of lean-related awards as well – perhaps prizes that recognize the strategy and efforts of entire companies, and another set of prizes to honor executives who are accomplished champions of being lean. Maybe prizes recognizing effective lean supply chain strategies would make sense.

            It wouldn’t be easy to establish the criteria and the metrics for any of these proposed awards, but I believe doing so could serve a valuable purpose.

            As lean spreads beyond the shop floor, more and more companies are coming to recognize the value and importance of an overall lean strategy. They are seeing that the greatest benefits from lean come when all departments are aligned in that strategy, with metrics that support it. The smartest companies extend that strategy into the supply chain, working with suppliers and/or customers to become lean as well. And they recognize how essential it is to have leaders and champions who are skilled, knowledgeable and dedicated to the never-ending quest for continuous improvement.

            The types of awards I’m describing could help people identify examples and case studies of how to be lean in all aspects of operations, and in individual positions. There’s an endless hunger for case studies and examples – benchmarks and role models, if you will – and awards can help feed that hunger.

            Anyone interested?


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