This month we focus on measures and assessment. Assessments have become very fashionable in lean, following on from established quality and management frameworks such as the EFQM business excellence model and, for US companies, the Baldridge.

Two of the articles here reflect assessment frameworks. Kate Mackle’s focus is on flow, particularly on creating flow, organising for flow, and maintaining flow. This balance between the three aspects is most welcome – too often there is an over-emphasis on maintaining activities such as 5S, standard work, and six sigma – but to the detriment of creating flow. Likewise, organising for flow has often received much less emphasis than it deserves.

The Shingo Prize, long established in the USA, and now being increasingly taken up in UK and Ireland, is widely recognised as the most comprehensive assessment framework. A strong feature is the three level assessment of tools, systems, and principles. In other words, a mastery of the lean tools is only the beginning – integration of the tools is required, and then ‘living’ the principles.

The best way of using assessment frameworks is to gain a balanced appraisal of the status of lean at a site. Used well, this can reveal areas of weakness and opportunity.

However, there are cautions. The first is where an assessment framework is seen by senior management as ‘the way to do lean’. Easy: just delegate responsibility to each department for driving up performance against the appropriate criteria. The second is appropriateness. A framework is supposed to be a ‘systems’ view for guidance. All too often it becomes a point-chasing exercise where the objective for individual managers is to increase their scores by following the standard criteria. Unfortunately, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. There is no escaping top management responsibility for lean success – going to the gemba, thinking through end-toend performance, PDCA, mentoring, management by asking questions, understanding the needs of tomorrows’ customers, and translating those needs into strategy.

No-one ever won a race by standing on the sidelines with a stopwatch.