Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Do our Customers Really Benefit from our Lean Effort?

One of the principles of the lean approach is long term thinking with focus on adding value to our customers and society. We are taught to eliminate waste, things that don’t add value to the customer.

We improve flow, reduce set up time, improve productivity, eliminate waste and reduce cost. Kaizen events successful hit targets and employees are trained. 5-S activities are done daily, audits are conducted and our facilities look better. We create value stream maps and work hard to transform our company to our future state.

Somewhere in all this lean activity, our customer focus can be lost. We do all the things that we believe will make us leaner. But have we truly adding value to our customer? If not, why not?

Do our lean efforts hit the bottom line and stop there? Is our lean effort all about improving our margins? Is our lean effort all about head count reduction?

It is not enough to just eliminate waste and reduce cost. Our customers don’t care about our 5-S audit scores, the number of kaizen events we conduct, if we use ERP or Kanban, or the number of our inventory turns. Our lean efforts must add value to the customer. It must be seen and felt by our customers.

Bottom line: Are we giving our customers what they want, when they want it, at the highest quality and affordable cost? Is our lean system effort supporting this mission?


Tim McMahon said...

Great thoughts Mike. I think one of the best ways that this can be done is to include the customer in the lean activities in the organization. When you do this you will have the voice of the customer present. Whether you add value I suppose is still not a given. You must work for that.

Tim McMahon
A Lean Journey

Mike Wroblewski said...

Great idea Tim. Many times we talk about customer involvement yet many of us don't really involve our customer. What better way to build a long term partnership. The same goes for our suppliers.

Jamie Flinchbaugh said...

I think this is an important question that companies should be asking themselves, but you don't accomplish it by accident. You should think specifically about how that happens.

Tim's comment is right on. We've led many kaizen events that tackle a process that crosses the boundaries between supplier and customer. It is uncomfortable for most companies to show their customer all of their problems, but that is the only way some of them get fixed.


Danie Vermeulen said...

Mike - you raise a very important (if not the most important) question! At the end of the day it is trough the eyes of the customer that true value is defined.
I agreee with Tim that deliberate customer (and supplier) involvement can only help us focus more on sustainable partnerships and benefits.
Danie Vermeulen
CEO: Kaizen Institute New Zealand