An Inflection Point

By: Ken Snyder

A few months ago, I had the chance to visit two companies that the Shingo Institute uses as “benchmark” companies. Both of these companies started their Lean journey about 20 years ago. Both companies received the Shingo Prize about 10 years ago. And both companies have continued their journey seeking perfection since receiving the Shingo Prize. We hope all Shingo Prize recipients follow their example in continuing their own journeys.

At both benchmark companies, I heard a similar story. It caught me by surprise. Let me explain.

In my career, I’ve had four to five Lean implementation opportunities that were either start-ups where we had the opportunity to build the culture from scratch, or involved a transformation of an existing culture. After being with an organization for seven to eight years, typically another professional opportunity came up and I moved on. I’ve never seen a Lean journey first-hand past seven to eight years. In my experience, I’ve always thought the highest productivity gains come in the earlier stages of the Lean journey. In many cases, there are so many opportunities that it’s easy to cherry-pick and find places where the application of Lean can make a big difference.

This is not the report of these benchmark companies. Both companies report that they experienced steady productivity gains of 10% or a little more, compounded year-over-year over a 10-15 year time period. This is amazing enough. But then, they both reported that in the past two to three years they experienced an inflection point, where the productivity gains jumped from the steady 10% or a little more to 15-20% productivitains the past two to three years. This is astonishing!

After verifying their reports, I asked them a series of questions so I could better understand how they could experience such astonishing results – especially after so many years of steady, great, results. Independently, both companies reported the reason for this inflection point is due to the level of training achieved by their associates. In short, their associates are now so well-trained that they can identify problems, solve problems, and implement changes so quickly and independently that the associates drive the productivity gains.

Both companies operate in-house universities where they teach lean tools and systems – things like SQC tools, error-proofing techniques, time-motion studies, TPM systems, and other problem-solving skills. Associates spend a significant amount of time on regular intervals training in these in-house universities. Over time, the skill level of associates is such that they can implement profound changes quickly and independently, without needing significant support from management or engineering.

After hearing these stories, and realizing how similar they are, we decided at the Shingo institute to offer a Master Track at our annual conference in the U.S. this year. During the Master Track, we will have these benchmark companies share some of their story about how they achieved this inflection point.

I learned something. I think all of you will, too.

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