Monthly Archives: September 2013

Should All Customer Feedback Be Transparent to Others?

Is all customer feedback accurate?  Should all customer feedback be displayed?

My first reaction was absolutely all feedback should be displayed.  This is great transparency and help drive improvement.  If you don’t want negative customer feedback then provide a good experience.

I now have changed my tune a bit.  I do believe that customer feedback should be transparent, even the negative.  What I don’t believe is that all feedback should be displayed because there is some of it that is flat out wrong.

It is one thing to have your business not provide a positive experience and actual events posted about that versus an experience that is just not the case.  This is easier to monitor and see in small businesses.

The ideal state is that no bad experiences happen and a customer never receives bad quality product.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case.  If a customer receives a product they are not happy with the provider should have a chance to correct the situation.

In recent months, I have seen where customers are posting negative comments on small businesses that are flat out lies.  Either talking about the business not working with them to correct a situation when the customer never even contacted the business to correct the situation or describing a defect that is not even physically possible with that product.

Understanding unsatisfied customers is a great thing to help improve your  business.  False information that can damage a business is just wrong.

So when using the customer reviews, you must be cautious with what you read.  Understand all the feedback and try to make an educated decision.  Heck.  Even contact the business and ask questions to help you feel more comfortable.

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Reducing the Cost of Higher Education

In a past post about a new educational model Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  It seems that more and more well know universities are offering MOOCs.  Allowing anyone to have access to some of the best professors in their fields for free.

This movement has started to cause people to examine the question of what should the cost of higher education really be?  The question is being raised often enough that a post on the HBR blog has started to address it.

The biggest challenge is getting employers to understand the value of the MOOCs.  They still don’t know what to think about them.

According to a recent Financial Times article, many employers are unsure of what to make of MOOC education — unsurprising, since many new technologies and business models go through multiple evolutions. The good news, according to the article, is that 80% of respondents surveyed would accept MOOC-like education for their internal employee development. We can extrapolate from this survey that the employer demand for online education exists — and, moreover, that it is only a matter of time until universities and well-funded venture capitalists will respond to this white space in the market very soon.

Employers find it great for already hired and in the workforce people but what about using the system to get a college degree?  Would it be totally free?

Georgia Tech, in fact, has already responded; in January, it will begin offering a master’s degree in computer science, delivered through MOOCs, for $6,600. The courses that lead to the degree are available for free to anyone through Udacity, but students admitted to the degree program (and paying the fee) would receive extra services like tutoring and office hours, as well as proctored exams.

In the near future, higher education will cost nothing and will be available to anyone in the world. Degrees may not be free, but the cost of getting some core education will be. All a student needs is a computing device and internet access. Official credentialing from an on-ground university may cost more; in early 2012, MIT’s MOOC, MITx, started to offer online courses with credentials, for “a small fee” available for successful students — and we’re eager to see how Georgia Tech’s MOOC degree will transform the education model.

This seems reasonable to me.  You can take the courses for free, but to get the degree or access to office hours, tutoring and other services you pay a fee.

So now the student has the power to decide whether they pay for the learning or not.  The next step is to make a database that shows the student took the class and completed it.  Nothing more.  Then a person could list it on their resume and employers have a way to validate the person actually did it.  Maybe universities can change to have access to the database?

I find the MOOC system very intriguing.  As someone who has two elementary school aged kids, I am very interested in how the educational system will start to transform over the next decade and how employers will except the changes.

Harvard Business Review Talks about Listening to Customers

The number one tenet of Lean is listening to your customers.  The company should derive what is of value for the customers from the customers.

Let Your Customers Streamline Your Business, posted by Lisa Bodell, discusses this very topic in detail.

So rather than relying on internal perspectives alone, engage your customers in developing simplification ideas…

The blog talks about simplifying products and services to help retain customers and increase customer satisfaction.

This simplification isn’t necessarily “dumbing” down the product or service.  It is about eliminating the waste in the product/service.

The first part of the definition of waste is the customer is willing to pay for and finds value in the feature.  If they don’t find value then it is non-value added waste.  The only way to understand what the customer believes is of value is to engage the customer.

Lisa talks about five ways to engage the customer:

Listen to your critics. Does your organization ask for customers’ feedback about what it was like to do business with you? What about asking non-customers why they don’t do business with you?

Roast your products and services. Comedy Central gained attention from its famous Roasts, where a celebrity gets torn to shreds with hilarious insults doled out by the audience. Try out this practice on your company’s products or services.

Turn pains into gains. Think about actively asking your customers about their pain points when it comes to working with your organization and its products or services.

Figure out what your customers do all day. Think you know your target market? Not just their demographic, but what their life is actually like.

Learn from other industries. Sometimes businesspeople think their company has unique circumstances; that problem-solving strategies that have proven successful in other industries wouldn’t work for them. This could not be further from the truth.

While there is a lot of traditional business thinking that I completely disagree with on the HBR blog, this one is dead on.

The best way to increase adoption of your product/service and gain customer loyalty is to listen to the very customers that are you targeting.

The SMED-ing of Football

I was looking for a change of pace for the whole Pit Crew/Racing example used to illustrate the SMED process.   Maybe I just got frustrated with it because, although it does show an example of a fast changeover, I’m not sure how “Lean” the whole process is.   Luckily, with football season around, I have found a new example to talk about.  (For those who may want to stop now, I’m talking about “American Football”, not what most everybody else in the world calls football.)

Judging by ratings, more people watch the NFL and College Football than motorsports.  That’s kind of important if I want to come up with something other than the tried and true pit crew metaphor.  Chances are if you’ve watched a game over the past few years, the talking heads in the booth have spent some of their time talking about “hurry up” or “blur” or some other variance of a no-huddle offense that is the greatest thing since the forward pass.  This is likely to be a huge topic of conversation early in the NFL season as one of the most well known practitioners, Chip Kelly, has left the University of Oregon and is now performing some degree of his voodoo for the Eagles.  What does that have to do with Lean and changeovers?  Hopefully I can show you.

One of the perceived benefits of the no huddle offense is that you can run more plays in the same amount of time because you can run them faster.  How does that happen?  Well, it starts with looking at a huddle as a changeover.  If you can exchange in your head the whistle stopping the previous play for “last good piece” and being in place for the snap of the ball for “first good piece”, the process is actually quite logical.  Here is a typical huddle:

1

In a no huddle system, you identify the steps in the changeover that don’t add value.  In this example, the steps that don’t add value are the “running back to the huddle” and the “communication in the huddle” steps.  From there, the steps of going to line up in your position and coaches communicating the play have to occur in parallel, and add in speeding up the movement from the end of the last play to getting back to the line for the next play.  The diagram starts to look like this:

2

3Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but it’s not a bad start.  Plus, it makes both watching football and talking about SMED a little more interesting.  (For the sake of clarity, yes, I realize that no-huddle offenses aren’t a new development in the past 2 years.  Also, from a football standpoint the speed of the plays is mostly important because it allows you to constantly tweak the pace of plays being executed so you can outflank the defense…but that’s a topic for another time and place.)

Are there any other good parallels that are in use to talk about SMED or another Lean concept?  In the interest of space, I’ve condensed some of the “how” out of this post.  If you’re interested, post a comment or drop me a line (joewilsonlean at gmail dot com) and we can discuss this concept or your other examples further.

Isn’t Saying ‘Thank You’ Part of Respect for People

A pillar of lean that is discussed regularly across blogs is the respect for people.  Steve Roesler, at All Things Workplace, posted a great blog about just saying ‘thank you.’

Research by UK performance improvement consultants Maritz has found that almost one in five of us (19 per cent) have never been thanked for our efforts at work while more than a third only hear those two little words once or twice a year.

Perhaps not-entirely coincidentally, that’s about the same proportion as another recent survey found have no loyalty towards the organisation they work for and couldn’t care less about their job.

Steve goes on to conclude:

Executives need to start thanking their managers regularly. Then they need to tell them to start thanking their people. Maybe we could get uppity and call it “Building a Culture of Thanks.” Clearly, it would be more effective and less costly than conferences and software.

This is just a part of respecting people.  Too many times, people get taken for granted even when they do great work consistently.

It isn’t hard to say ‘thank you’.  It takes two seconds and it can go along way in showing that you have noticed and you care.  You respect their work and time.

When in Doubt…Go and See

On a recent project, some senior leaders were asking for an update on the development of an app the team was building.  The team is using the Agile methodology, so there is progress and changes every day or two to the app.

Instead of trying to explain the progress, the team invited the senior leaders to the work space for a demo.

The demo went incredibly.  As soon as they saw the app, there was great understanding of how it worked.  Everyone was able to see not only the customer interaction, but also the aesthetics of the app.

The senior leaders asked some really great questions about the customer experience and how the app worked.  Because the team is using the Agile methodology, they were able to quickly add the changes to the app for a better customer experience.

If you want to understand something, go and see it.  It seems so simple.  Yet, that is not the first instinct of most.

By the team asking the senior leaders to come and see, they are setting an example of this behavior.  Hopefully, the senior leaders left with a sense that it was great they saw the app and the work environment and next time they have questions they just go and see.  Then it starts to carryover to other projects.  Slowly, the behavior starts to change because the benefits are seen.

Next time someone asks you for an update, take them to the work and show them.  Help change the behavior.

Wasting Food

A couple weeks back one of the Lean folks that I follow, tweeted about cream being brought along with coffee even though it wasn’t wanted and called this waste.  It made me think about coffee and restaurants quite a bit more than I really wanted.  For the record, I’m pretty sure that the tweet was likely at some level sarcastic and I don’t intend to argue the specific point here so I didn’t bother to look back at who typed it or the exact wording.  If it was your tweet and you’re offended, please don’t be.  Or, if you want credit, let me know and I’ll go look it up.

I started to think about this and I wondered at what level bringing cream with coffee to a person that drinks black coffee is waste.  For the person drinking the coffee, it’s clearly wasteful because they aren’t going to use it and the container is likely in the way.  For the restaurant, you are paying money for ingredients that aren’t adding anything to the customer experience.  On a single point level, that seems to fit the definition of waste to a “T”…so we should form a six sigma project team or set up a 5 day kaizen event to address it, right?  Well, maybe the answer is a bit more nuanced than that.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that these made up facts describe the business condition for our dairy wasting enterprise for their breakfast service:

The restaurant serves an average of 100 customers every morning and each customer has an average ticket of $10 for their food and drinks.  Of these 100 customers, 90% order coffee and 20% like their coffee black.  For each coffee ordered, the input cost of the cream is $0.25.  Let’s add an efficiency loss of 1 minute for every time the server has to retrieve cream when the table wants it, but doesn’t have it.

Putting all of this together in simple Excel math, the restaurant earns $1,000 for the breakfast service and spends $22.50 of that on cream for coffee.   Not all of that $22.50 is waste because 80% will use it, putting the actual cost of the waste at $4.50 worth of cream that doesn’t get used.  That’s around 0.5% of your revenue, not an insignificant amount in the restaurant business.  But, let’s look a step farther…the servers will spend 72 minutes of customer service time retrieving the cream for the tables, impacting the service for at least those 72 diners.  Now, as a restaurant owner, you’re looking at saving $4.50 per breakfast and making it easier for 18 of your customers vs. spending that extra $4.50 and being more efficient for 72 of your customers.  I’d probably make the case that most of the 100 are influenced by the higher workload on the server, but I’m not going to run it through a simulation program to get a pattern.

Don’t like the original estimates, okay…let’s cut the number of customers to 50, assume all order coffee and half like it black.  That moves your wasted cost of cream to $6.25 and number of customers impacted to 25.  Your decision point seems a bit tougher here.

I guess what I’m trying to say through this simplistic example is that, in a lot of cases, the context of defining waste is a bit of a gray area.  Not everything fits in to the handy TIMWOOD’s the same way.  Ideally the cream/no cream quandary is able to be solved with no waste on either side.  I’ve never been a server nor have I ever owned a restaurant, so I’m not sure what the better solution might be in this case.  As a customer, it’s kind of interesting to look at situations like this and realize that just because I don’t want something doesn’t mean it’s wasteful for the provider.  I guess it’s kind of like buying a car where in order to get some feature you do want you end up with some you don’t because it’s more efficient for the manufacturers to build to standard levels of trim and features.

More Quick Easy Visual Management

Here is another example of quick easy visual management.

onesis_mold

This is a soap mold from my wife’s business.  A couple of the spots in the mold have cracked and now they are not usable.  She put a quick ‘X’ on the bottom of the mold so when she is pouring she knows she can’t use that cavity.

Visual management doesn’t have to be high tech or fancy.  It just has to convey the message quickly and at a glance.  In this case, the cavity is usable or it is not.

Share examples of how you have used visual management at work or at home.

Lean In Project Management

Like so many that started learning and implementing lean in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I started applying lean principles and concepts in manufacturing.  I spent nearly 15 years applying lean thinking in a manufacturing environment.  I absolutely loved seeing the immediate change in material flow or the feedback from operators that someone listened to them and they were able to make things better.

It is no secret.  A manufacturing environment is a tangible environment to see the improvements and get quicker feedback back on how you are applying lean thinking because of the immediate visual results.

A couple of years ago, I moved from the manufacturing environment to the office/project management environment.  This was quite a change and one I looked at as a new challenge.  I took it on.  I have worked with product development and retail management teams.  Not even thinking twice as to what I was doing…until recently.

This summer I took on the role of project manager.  I am managing the deployment of technology to our retail environments.  The changes are not as immediate and not as visual as a manufacturing environment.  After a while, I questioned whether I was still applying lean principles to my work.  Finally, I took a step back to have a serious reflection and what I discovered is my previous 15+ years have engrained the thinking and principles without realizing it.

I have been directly observing the work as activities, connections and flows by sitting with the teams developing and testing the technology.  I see how the work and how the product works.  I have gone to a few retail stores to see the technology being used so I can bring those observations back to the team.  I also went to other retail stores using similar technology and talked with the store managers about what is working and what isn’t working for them.

The principle of systematic problem solving comes to light with using visual boards to status the project and highlight the problems that need to be worked on in the next 24-48 hrs.  We are trying to surface the problems quickly, so they can be resolved.  We have broken the issues down into categories to know which are the highest priority.

Systematic waste elimination comes from defining new processes that will continue once the project is launched.  We are working to improve and make them as efficient as we know how today.

Each day at standup, we are establishing high agreement on what we are going to be working on and how we will go about working on it.  This establishes clear ownership of the work and an expected due date.

Finally, we are learning about the product, the technology and our processes with every iteration.  Getting feedback incorporated into the product as quickly as possible.

The reflection helped me understand how I am using the lean principles everyday even if it is not in a tangible manufacturing environment.

How about you?  In what type of environment are you using the lean principles?

Bill Waddell Highlights the Importance of Quick Changeovers

Recently, Bill Waddell published a great blog post highlighting the benefits of reducing changeover time.  The post was about reducing the manufacturing cycle which is the time it takes to produce every product.  Bill used an actual story from a client of his.

To be sure there were other inputs to the improvement – a simple demand pull method and more statistically valid methods of determining the inventory needed to cover the cycle, but set-up reduction was at the heart of it, and the improvements there translated into significantly less inventory, better on time delivery and lower costs.

Hearing stories like the one Bill wrote about just reaffirms the importance of reducing changeover time.  It is something that companies take for granted.  Most companies don’t see it as critical to achieving the business needs and goals.

Bill gives two great examples of where changeovers have been deemed to critical or their business would die.

I recently saw a cruise ship go through the change-over process and it is really quite similar.  Dock and disembark some 3,000 passengers and their luggage and take on 3,000 new ones, restock tons of food and supplies, perform necessary maintenance to the ship, then sail again all in the course of a few hours.  They have all sorts of specially designed devices and a very well trained crew of folks to do it … but they have to.  That turnaround is the key to their success.  In that regard they are a lot like the NASCAR or Indy cars – change-over fast or die.

Manufacturing companies don’t take this view.  My question is “Why not?”

If results like the company Bill talks about receives such incredible benefit that help them stay viable and profitable, why aren’t more companies doing it?  What other evidence is needed?

Does your company consider quick changeover critical to it’s success?