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Entering Manufacturing Awards in 2022? - choose wisely (#56)

It's all about the strings, not the puppet show


Thinking about the year ahead, here are some good reasons to enter Manufacturing Awards this year.


Once upon a time, a lean person (spoiler alert: that'll be me) got involved with 2 very different manufacturing companies. Company A was a repeated Best Factory award winner and pursued awards for their own sake. Company A also had a pretty simple manufacturing process - few customers, simple BoM, simple routings. The uncharitable amongst you might call it them a one trick pony, albeit a well executed trick - they were indeed a slick manufacturing machine.


Company B was a very complicated business, 4 value streams under one roof hooked up to a devilish level of complexity. They never entered awards but decided, one year, to enter a good calibre awards competition for business reasons - to attract new customers. They won and, unsurprisingly carried on entering, with decent success for a number of years. That alone is unremarkable, their reason for repeatedly re-entering is! They had a passing interest in winning and a searing interest in meeting and building relationships with other non-competing finalists. Relationships that became buddy-like with visits to each others plants, at all levels, sharing knowledge to grow and tackle problems. Making friends and benchmarking all rolled into one.


Company A eventually hit the skids and languished for a long time, waiting for a mercurial leader to appear to perform the magic-not-so-magic turnaround trick of setting a clear direction and getting the basics right. Entering awards didn't cause the fall from grace. Taking their eye off the ball, chasing the Intergalactic Lean Factory awards did. They started to believe their own press. Be like Company B is my advice and enter 'useful' awards for the right reasons. Read on...


What are 'Useful awards'


  • In a nutshell these are the ones where high calibre, experienced judges with a strong gemba feel get to ferret around on your shop floor. Lean/Manufacturing awards, where judging takes place solely on a laptop, are no use to man or beast. You want experienced and skilled eyes, hands and feet visiting your factory.


  • A good judge, walking around the shop floor with a critical but well-intentioned eye, is a powerful ally. They've seen the puppet show before and are more interested in the strings. Not content to just enjoy the well scripted puppet show, they're scrutinising the strings (and the puppeteers!) but never expect to see perfect strings. As a judge I never do. I look for, and reward, the strongest, least frayed, most flexible strings that show the most signs of care (and respectful handling)


  • Let the judge stray a little from the royal route into the dark recesses of your process. there's nothing worse than a tightly scripted sprint around a shop floor, hearing ONLY the voices of Managers and senior people.

Why enter then? - the 'right' reasons?


A good judge understands the words of George Orwell:


“A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats”


  • What does this Orwellism mean? Open the kimono and let the judge(s) see the real factory, it's free consultancy and they'll help you understand, through their questions, eyes and comments, the next best step in your lean journey. Forget about winning, make use of the process.


  • How to spot a good judge? they're unherdable and want to speak to the people doing the work. Let them speak and don't worry that your people aren't polished orators. It's better that way. Slick is the enemy of learning.


  • Above all, never be embarrassed, we all have parts of our body we'd rather change. I've stood in the rough ends of town in the best Toyota and Lexus plants in the world. That's where I learned the most and truly understood the challenges faced by any given plant.


  • Initially, you're entering to get critical feedback from an expert with fresh eyes. More deeply you can build relationships like Company B did. It's no accident that manufacturing giants, with plants dotted across the globe, often operate the buddy system of a weaker, less mature plant having a strong relationship with a mature 'leaner' business.


Every year I judge Manufacturing Awards in the Strategy & Leadership, Operational Excellence or People Development categories and I learn as much as I impart. If you're feeling brave enough, show us a few of the strings behind your puppet show.

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