This is a translation of the bulk of Bodo Wiegand's latest newsletter, about Lean in Germany, followed by my comments:
This year I've certainly visited 20 companies that have an American leadership or are managed by private equity companies.
With all the same phenomenon: Lean audit compliance 90% and above.
I visit every year at least 50 to 60 companies. Their degree of Leanness is in my estimation at best 70%, and at the companies mentioned above no higher than 50%. It's not being mean or petty, but just that these companies have not understood it.
In one of them, I walk with two managers into the shop. I remain standing there, while both of them keep going. After 20 meters, they notice that I am not following,and return. Then we need an hour to walk these 20 meters again because, in these 20 meters, we encounter an abundance of issues with order and cleanliness, the environmental, safety and quality, as well as waste.
Another company, with a Lean grade of 92% is highly automated, with an OEE supposedly of 73%. During the tour, 50% of the machines were idle, and then you had enough inventory over inventory to go crazy. At the given bottleneck - no SMED - no Lean Maintenance - nothing that would optimize the most critical point in the production process - and then a Lean grade of 92%?
"Wonderful, the Germans!"
Again, another company pursues excellence in Lean, TPM and CI. It has assigned members to the CI process, organized to push it through, and provided everything you must have to be successful. And ... all activities fizzle out almost entirely ... Lean is processed, there is no steering of CI and everything stops at department boundaries, and there is therefore no interface cross-optimization. And worst of all... it is not measured.
As you know - if I do not measure, I have no success.
It reminds me of a project. There were 5 employees in quality management who did nothing but accompany audits, prepare for them, and post-processed them.
What nonsense! I closed this department immediately and transferred the responsibility to manufacturing and department heads. It took 4 audits with terrible results until all had heard that it is YOUR process that needs to be experienced.
Then something unexpected happened - yet actually predictable.
Suddenly, the audits were not a matter of quality, but the leadership, the champion and team leader. Suddenly quality was in their heads, because they have been responsible for the quality itself and suddenly there were YOUR quality processes.
Auditors came to me and told me something they had never experienced. Although one could forget the quality manuals confidently, the external auditors have not let them fall through, but were thrilled - the processes were well visualized and followed.
Lean audit compliance 90% and better means, for example, that all employees know what Lean is, detect and eliminate waste, adhere to good housekeeping, Lean thinking and strive for improvement.
Done correctly, the Lean audit helps maintain the set standards, identify problem areas, describe areas of activity and measure progress. If the Lean audit is seen as an obligation - as a kind of show for the owners - it does not really help the company - it is just another scam or metrics game, done for its own sake, and with nothing to do with Lean
For many reasons, management tends to overstate achievements, and I could add to Wiegand's examples. I remember being stunned when the plant manager told me that they had started their Lean implementation 8 years earlier, when I had not seen any trace of it on the shop floor.
Or my guide in another plant telling me about an assembly line "We have already optimized this, now we are working on scheduling," while it was obvious that much of the improvement potential had been left on the table. That encounter was one reason I banned the word "optimization" from my vocabulary, as I had found it used primarily to justify not pursuing continuous improvement.
But I part company with Wiegand when he seems to agree that there can be such a thing as a meaningful Lean score, and that "Leanness" can be measured by audit compliance. To me, Lean never has been about having a list of practices in place that an auditor can check off on a form. No matter what the list is, a "Lean score" belongs with IQs, food calories and other pseud0-scientific, misleading bad metrics.
Such scoring methods push managers to make their plants look Lean for the benefit of auditors. This is what you need to do to become certified as a "Lean supplier" or to win prizes. It is not what you need to do to improve quality, productivity, delivery, safety, or morale. It leads to place andon lights on each machine in a row to quickly score more points, instead of pursuing SMED. You really need SMED to support your customers, but it would not immediately boost your audit score, and it therefore goes on the back burner.