It's been a long time since we've talked about the Shingo Prize, but some of our long-term readers will remember when we took the Prize to task exactly three years ago. That was the year when the Shingo Prize, once called the "Nobel Prize of Manufacturing," was awarded to multiple Delphi plants. Yes, Delphi. As we put it back then,
imperceptible. Their cost did not improve. They may have achieved
excellent quality levels, but they proved unable to translate that to
bottom line improvement. We don't need to go over the same old
ground. They looked lean, but they weren't lean. The legacy cost
whining began after it was plain that their lean effort was not
producing results. They are back to the same old, worn out automotive
industry solution – blame it all on the Unions, close plants, outsource
work to Asian countries, blah, blah, blah. They have a lawyer in
charge who is trying to accomplish in Court and on Wall Street what
they were unable to accomplish in their plants.
Clearly the bankruptcy of Delphi is evidence of a gaping hole in the
Shingo Prize criteria, as well as in the lean body of knowledge. That
is no big deal – just learn from it, improve the Prize criteria, and
move on. It is what good manufacturers do every day – they make
mistakes, they learn, they improve. To take a defensive position,
however, and repeat the self-serving rationalizations coming out of
Delphi management does a disservice to manufacturing and to Shingo's
Apparently they did learn, as the Prize criteria changed a bit. Unfortunately in more ways than one. The Prize has evolved from a manufacturing prize to one broadened to "operational excellence." Additional categories were added for public sector and research, and apparently there will be future categories for industries such as healthcare. Multiple silver and bronze levels. Now it has extended the Prize to a bazillion regions, from the northeast to the northwest, multiple state level prizes, and it has even jumped the pond.
I like much of the Shingo Prize criteria; in fact I have used it as part of the model for guiding lean transformations at multiple companies. I have many friends on the Shingo Board of Governors and the Shingo Academy, and there are many deep lean thinkers and innovators in those two groups that I have tremendous respect for. I even have a quote from a prior Shingo Prize executive director in the header of this blog
But what is going on? The Shingo Prize used to be awarded to very few companies, and even if the criteria were flawed it had a large measure of prestige. Now the criteria have been revised but the Prize is awarded to companies in multiple industries, levels, and regions.
If this isn't stopped it will become as diluted as the Oscar… there will be a Prize for the best donut shop within five miles of a medium-sized police station within the state of Alabama when the moon is full. I can hear it now at the next Prize ceremony… "Earlier this evening the following prizes were also awarded…"
Who is the branding expert at Shingo? He is obviously skilled at
"fragmentation branding," perhaps gaining his experience at a
toothpaste or detergent company. It's sort of like Rolls Royce hiring
a guy from Proctor & Gamble.
Of course there's the question of the fundamental value of the Shingo Prize, or any award for that manner. Ever ask a true lean company like Toyota or Danaher whether they go for such awards? Their answer will be "what value does it have for the customer?" Good question. Shouldn't a Prize devoted to excellence as measured by creating customer value automatically disqualify any company that applies because the act of applying creates waste, demonstrating the company doesn't understand customer value? Now there's a statement that will require a couple aspirin if read twice!
Conundrums can create interesting business models.