With surprisingly little noise a watershed event in the 'leaning' of American manufacturing happened this week that everyone of us needs to be on top of. SME, AME and the Shingo Prize folks rolled out their Lean Certification program. While there is all manner of lean certification available out there - most of it offered by self-proclaimed lean experts - this one is profoundly different. It is being driven by a couple of outfits who have credibility - and it is not being driven by anyone with selfish or parochial motives. The handwriting is on the wall for the lean community. Anyone who would continue to try to compete with their own lean certification program, or would spend hard earned cash getting some other lean cert, is foolish.
Of course the SASP criteria is fraught with holes and weaknesses. The simple fact is that there is no consensus among the most knowledgeable people as to exactly what the lean body of knowledge is, and how it fits together. The fact that there are so few truly lean companies makes it clear that the knowledge base is still a little wobbly. The SASP is pretty good, however. More important, the folks in charge operate out of a wide open tent. If there are lean experts out there with a better idea - and I am certain there are - they are all welcome to join the club and put in their two cents. Given the nature of the SASP program, the people chairing the thing have every incentive to listen to and adopt ideas that serve to make the Lean Cert more meaningful.
One of the critical factors behind the long term credibility and success of the APICS certification program was that Ollie Wight had the wisdom to have certification come through APICS, rather than through his own consulting company - an then to keep the evolution of the APICS body of knowledge at arms length from his company. He did a lot more good for manufacturing and made a heck of a lot more money supporting the APICS body of knowledge than he ever would have had he tried to keep MRP to himself. The lean consulting community will do well to learn from old Ollie and throw their support behind the SASP program, rather than try to compete with it.
The best thing that can happen to manufacturing in America will be the Department of Defense throwing their support behind SASP, and withdrawing it from everywhere else. The long term lean leadership in this country will come from the defense industry - not automotive. The automotive industry far too busy groveling in the gutters of Wall Street and battling the UAW over bathroom time to pay serious attention to manufacturing. Defense is a different story, however.
The big defense companies have the same priorities as automotive. Their big honchos need to know the hourly movement of their stock price like normal people need air. Whether it is because they don't think it is important, or they are honest enough to know that they are no good at it, the consensus about manufacturing in defense is that 80% of it should be outsourced. The big difference is that China, India and Malaysia are off limits. Some restrictions are the result of security concerns, but most of it is political. No Congressman or Congresswoman with a lick of sense is going to vote to fund a weapons program if the prime contractor even thinks about moving jobs from his or her district to another district, let alone another country. No, defense is stuck in this country and since they don't want to do the manufacturing themselves, they need lots of small and medium sized manufacturers to do it for them. That means they need a very lean base with which to work.
Sooner or later defense will figure out that lightweight programs like SEA (Supplier Excellence Alliance) will not get them where they need to be and they will fall into place with SASP. Organizations like SEA will evolve to become training organizations to prepare people for the SASP Certification tests I strongly recommend that, for everyone's benefit, defense makes it sooner, rather than later.
That SASP will become the only valid lean certification in the U.S. is inevitable. Whether it happens fast or slow, easily or painfully, is up to the lean community and the big manufacturers. It will happen, though. You can count on that.