Ross E. Robson has been the Executive Director of the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing, a recognition and award program for manufacturers in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, since 1989. He also serves as Associate Dean for Business Relations of the College of Business and is a management professor at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Dr. Robson has participated in over 100 comprehensive site evaluation visits to companies that have challenged for the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing; the NASA Excellence Award for Quality and Productivity; and consulting evaluations.

Q: Explain briefly the background on the Shingo prize and its criteria. What is its mission? A: Vision of the Shingo Prize is to be the “Nobel prize” in business, grounded in lean enterprise management leading to world-class and globally competitive business. The Mission is to:
  • Promote world-class business and manufacturing processes that will enable organizations to achieve perfection in quality, best cost, and 100 percent on-time delivery to fulfill the custom experience.
  • Foster the sharing of “True North” core business and manufacturing processes for continuous improvement.
  • Recognize research and applied materials that support the vision and mission of the Shingo Prize.

Q: How and why has the Shingo prize criteria evolved since it began?

A: Due to the training, consulting and writing by Shigeo Shingo with and about Toyota Motor’s, the criteria were developed to reflect the Toyota Production System without using the name Toyota. All of the refinements of the Criteria has been grounded in enhanced understanding of how Toyota does business. The paradigm is know as Lean. For the Shingo Prize, the criteria has emphasized the total business system, albeit with an emphasis on the shop-floor. Lean is not a set of tools or a tool-kit. The Toyota Production System, dubbed Lean in about 1990, includes a focus on Muda or waste; Muri or overburden of machine or people; and Mura or unevenness and variation to achieve perfection in product quality. Lean is the foundation of the Shingo Prize Model and Criteria.

Q: Shingo places a lot of emphasis on integrating only value-added activities into the production process. Explain what this means, citing examples. Why is it such an important strategy for manufacturers?

A: The focus on value-added activities throughout the business enterprise is a no-brainer. Why engage in non-value activities that should never be done in the first place to meet customer demand? The examples of value-added efforts are extensive. We do TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) to ensure value-added production. We do SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Die) to ensure value-added production and customer response. We implement Poka-Yoke (Mistake Proofing) mechanisms to achieve build-in value-added quality. Every process in Lean is designed to enhance value-add and to eliminate non-value-added activity. Once again, why do something that should never have been done in the first-place to meet customer demand?

Q: How do you feel as though companies can benefit from the award application process itself?

A: Over 18 years, many plants/companies have used the Prize process for a few basic reasons. One has been to reward associates for their Lean continuous improvement efforts as recognized by an external review. Yes, we have received recognition, but we still have numerous opportunities for improvement. The Feedback has usually been viewed as positive by highlighting areas of opportunity. And many associates have received nice promotions for jobs well done. It’s simply a Win-Win for all Stakeholders as business strives to be globally competitive.

Q: Describe the necessary qualifications of a Shingo Board of Examiners member.

A: Generally, an Examiner must have had multiple years of significant Lean experience in business. Most examiners are middle- to upper level executives within their companies. In addition, all must complete a training class and also be re-certified every three years.

Q: Explain the site visit element of the selection process. What types of things does the committee look for inside the facility?

A: An Examination Team site visit is to “verify, clarify and amplify” the previously submitted 100 page Achievement Report. Not only are the manufacturing value-streams examined and analyzed, but also the business value-streams of Accounting and Finance, Human Resources, Materials Management, Quality and so forth. The reported Metrics are carefully reviewed through visits to all functional units of an applying entity. The site visit is designed to fulfill the purposes of Lean.

Q: Describe some of the rewards companies have enjoyed after receiving the Shingo prize.

A: Recognition within ones industry is probably the greatest reward. Autoliv ASP is now recognized as one of the best implementations of Lean in North America. Autoliv now has its own Autoliv University to train companies in the Autoliv Production System and Lean Enterprise. Some companies have used the Shingo Prize program to emphasize the companies capability to be cost efficient to their customers.

Q: In which ways do you see the Shingo prize as critical to the positive growth of the manufacturing industry?

A: The world marketplace is not a level playing field today. Estimates are that the value of the Chinese currency is undervalued compared to the US Dollar by 20-40 percent. In addition, the Chinese are subsidizing some industries, estimated by some as an additional 10-15 percent. What would the balance-of-foreign-payment deficit with China be without such subsidy or more important, how many manufacturing jobs would still exist in the North America today? With a globally level playing-field, Lean is the only paradigm or framework that will best insure that North American manufacturers can be globally competitive in quality, cost, delivery and customer satisfaction. Every state Economic Development program provides significant tax incentives to grow new manufacturing jobs within a state due to the enhanced multiplier benefit. We clearly need a national industrial policy that elevates the maintenance and growth of manufacturing jobs as a key element of national security. We simply cannot become just a service economy to insure wealth and good jobs for our North American communities. The Shingo Prize is clearly focused on such objectives.

For more information on the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing, visit