Scott Sink sent me this link to an article in the Harvard Business Review about a rapid plant assessment model. It's old, but it's timeless and worth a read.
The link in the article to resources on the U. of Michigan Business School is dead, but here's the original site with a link to the full assessment tool (Excel spreadsheet).
The HBR article reminded me that there's a lot to be learned through simple observation, as Taiichi Ohno of Toyota taught using his chalk circle. If you know what to look for, it's a powerful practice, and even if you don't, you can ask questions and learn.
Last summer, I toured a local auto assembly plant. Walking through the body shop, my group observed auto body welding. There were lots of sparks thrown by the robots. To me, that means weld tips that are somewhat misaligned because they are not being maintained. We also saw a lot of dirt and grime on the robots themselves, indicating a lack of preventive maintenance, which is always a root cause of other problems — either poor quality or downtime. All of that took maybe five minutes to see.
So go and look — see what you can learn. And if you've seen a useful lean assessment tool for manufacturing, service, or IT operations, please share it and we'll post it.