Time for an Ohno Prize?

Bill Waddell asks readers to help him out in answering the question “Why should anyone apply for the Shingo Prize?” in a recent blog entry. Bill points out that now bankrupt Delphi spent around $300,000 to win Shingo Prizes for 24 of their factories. And what was the dividend?

This is a question that’s been on my mind also. Norman Bodek talks in his book Kaikaku: The Power and Magic of Lean about how he set up the Shingo Prize to honor Shigeo Shingo. The book tells how the board evaluating the applicants for the first award said none of them qualified. So the award was given to the factory that was the least ugly, so to speak.

Looking through some of the prizes awarded in some categories in recent years I wonder if this isn’t still the case. In some years the prize has gone to products or companies that were the best entrants in their category, but perhaps not worthy of Shingo’s name. It shouldn’t be a beauty contest. There’s nothing wrong with saying “no one qualified this year”.

One of our clients is implementing Lean explicitly with the aim of winning the Shingo Prize. On the positive side following an implementation model such as the Shingo criteria is a good thing. The idea of winning a prize has helped them create appeal to the executives. I’m concerned about the message this sends to the many 50 to 500 person factories that make up this conglomerate.

To say that one of the major milestones for Lean manufacturing implementation, a critical activity for keeping jobs in the local economy, is to check off the boxes in a criteria and win a prize sends the wrong message to the middle managers and workers. There are far better ways to create job pride. The Shingo Prize can come later.

I think today if you can put the words “Toyota supplier” on your business it lends a lot more credibility in terms than all of the prizes, awards, and certificates that purport to qualify and recognize Lean manufacturing achievement.

One of the companies we visited recently on our benchmarking trip to Japan would probably not win the Shingo Prize. They began implementing TPS 20 years ago. They are a foundry, and there痴 a certain amount of acceptance in their culture for dirt and grime. The culture of 5S is there, but it’s not spick and span. They are unabashedly a batch production shop, but they can still show high turns, good quality, and on-time delivery. They are a bit of a problem for the traditional Lean thinker. They make fistfuls of money and the people would rather work there than anywhere else.

If there were an Ohno Prize the evaluation criteria question would be short and sweet: “Why do you want to waste your time on this?”

Maybe that’s harsh. But I think Taiichi Ohno’s only comments to the winners at the Ohno Prize awards ceremony would be “You got the prize. So what? What are you going to do next?”