Blog Archives

One Man’s Lean Journey: Process and Data Don’t Matter…Just Emotions!

Following a structured problem solving approach takes fortitude and courage when the world around you wants to shoot from the hip and judge based on their emotions. I found this out when dealing with one of the automakers we supplied.

Our quality engineer (QE) got a call that our grilles were not fitting the front of the cars correctly and asked her to take a look into it. The QE asked me to help find the root cause. We first tested our gages at our facility and found they were certified and working properly. Our parts showed to be within the tolerances given to us by the automaker.

We decided a trip to the automaker was needed to see the process, talk with the operators and also run a couple of tests. The QE and I asked the automaker’s QE to pull two vehicles off the lot and save for us to test. One vehicle is a great example of how the part should fit and one vehicle where the part fits very poorly.

When we arrived at the assembly facility the first thing the QE and I did was go out to the assembly line and talk with the operators that assemble our grilles the the vehicles. The operators said our grille may not fit the first vehicle but would work great on the next one down the line. This was a big clue. Direct observation of the process was a huge help in understanding how our grilles were assembled to the cars. We ended up knowing the process better than the automaker’s QE.

Next we asked to see the two vehicles we requested to be set aside. Well, he only saved the bad vehicle and not the good one. This became a point of contention because we needed a good car to compare the differences and conduct a test. He argued with me for 10 minutes before I finally convinced him to pull one in from the lot outside.

I conducted my test and proved with a 95% confidence level that our grille was not root cause of the fit issues. There were two possible causes: 1) the fender or 2) the fender’s interaction with our grille (the fender on one end of their specs mixed with a grille on the opposite end of our specs could cause the fit issues).

This was not received well at all. The automaker’s QE contested everything I did and wouldn’t believe the findings even though he watched me during the entire test. It took a second automaker QE to come over and see what was going on to get any agreement. The second automaker QE heard about the test and backed up my findings.

I even volunteered my help to conduct more tests to find the root cause. They agreed to the help and both the automaker and the QE from my company had action items to complete in the next two weeks in order to do further testing.

As we followed up with the automaker’s QE over the next couple of weeks, we found he was not living up to his end of the action items and was still trying to blame our grille. The QE and I had to escalate the issue to our plant manager who supported us and called their plant manager.

A compromise was reached. The test was conducted as I laid out but I was not allowed back into their facility. In the end, it was the fender that had issues.

It was hard to stick to the process when every obstacle was being thrown in the way. It taught me a valuable lesson about how strong emotions on a subject can be even with data and facts presented.

Reflections:

  • A strong process is an amazing thing to be able to fall back on in times of stress. It showed exactly why people fall back into old habits when things aren’t going well.
  • The right thing isn’t always the easy thing. It can be hard to standup for the right thing even when it is good for your customer.
  • Having a leadership team that supports and encourages strong processes is critical when those processes are challenged
  • Solidified my belief in the power of a strong process to get predictable and sustainable results
  • Direct observation of the grille being assembled provided strong facts that no one that hasn’t seen the process could argue

Customer Focus Eliminates Waste

Recently, my wife had an experience with supplier that wasn’t focused on us as a customer and it created great waste for the supplier.

The shop was low on a particular candle that we buy from a local handmade supplier.  The product is great and it sells really well.  My wife emailed the owner to order more candles.  In the email, she asked if the owner could send a list of spring related scents as we phase out the holiday related scents, so we could pick out what we think our customers would like.

We didn’t hear from the owner for about a week or more.  Then the owner shows up with the candles we ordered plus three new spring scents.  We didn’t like one of the scents.  We said we wouldn’t take that one and discussed other possibilities to choose from.  A different scent was picked and a few days later the owner returned with the new scent.

When the issue of not responding was brought up to the owner, the reply was they were so concerned that we needed the candles right away that they just made them as quick as possible and brought them over.  My wife explained that we don’t need things immediately, especially after the holidays and if there is ever any question to just ask.

The owner wanted to please us, but didn’t focus on what was truly important to us which is the scent selection.  The owner ended up causing waste of defects/rework (making new candles she hadn’t made), waiting (us waiting longer to get the order filled) and transportation (driving to our store twice).

Have you or your company ever rushed a product or service to market because YOU thought that was what the customer needed and then if failed?  What were you focused on?

If you aren’t sure what your customer needs are…ask.  Be clear and focus on what they need, not what you think they need.

One Man’s Lean Journey: Gain Respect and Deliver What the Customer Desires

I spent about a year working as an Industrial Engineer at Guardian before I got on opportunity to move into the Program Manager position. In this role, I was responsible for managing every engineering change that came through the facility. That could be a new paint color, new components or even a complete redesign with tool modifications. This covered over 5,000 part numbers and at least 10 customers.

Not only was there the external customers, but there were the internal customers. I had to work with the corporate design engineers and product managers as well as the facility’s engineers and senior staff. I had to make sure we were still profitable with the changes. It was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. This is where I learned how to listen to customers wants and combine them with our capabilities.

Being focused on the customer and delivering what they would like does not mean bending over backwards and just caving to every demand they have. It means have a respectful relationship and working together to achieve the desired outcome. Sometimes it was easy. They customer would want a new paint color. I would work with the paint supplier to get the color developed, tested and approved. A pretty standard process and well within our capability.

Sometimes it was much more difficult. One customer wanted their grille of their flagship vehicle to have a “smoked chrome” look like it did in Japan. The look was very popular and they wanted to carry it over to the U.S. The issue was the paint they used in Japan was not legal in the U.S. because of the amount of VOCsNissan_Maxima. I worked with a team that sat down with the customer and understood what the “smoked chrome” look they were trying to achieve. It took over six months of development with our paint supplier and our process engineers to get the desired look.

All along the way the customer understood the effort we were going through and how complicated it was to get the desired look. Because of this, they agreed to pay a much higher than standard price for the grille. More importantly, a trust and a relationship had grown between our companies. One of respect and understanding. Our efforts to give the customer what they wanted but stay within our facilities capabilities made us a preferred supplier. Nothing was as complicated as that moving forward but when changes where needed, the customer took the approach of “this is what we are looking for. What can you do?”

It was a great lesson in serving the customer without bending on what your purpose and capabilities are in a way that benefits everyone.

Reflections:

  • When working directly with the external customer, you must keep in mind your capabilities and core strengths and help deliver within those parameters. It can create some creativity.
  • Must focus on the external customer first but you can’t forget the internal customer as well.
  • Being firm, but reasonable can help garner trust and a strong relationship. When you give them everything not matter what it does to you, it doesn’t gain respect but one of dominance by the customer

Open for Business

I have had a hard time keeping up with the blog this year for a very good reason.  Regular readers may know that my wife has had an online business selling handmade soaps and bath and body products that she makes.  Over the last 4 years revenue has continued to grow at an incredible rate.  So much so, that we out grew out house a year ago and have been searching for a space outside the house to make the products.

Everything finally fell into place.  On Saturday, July 5th, 2014; Crimson Hill Soapworks and Gift Market retail soap opened for business.

Grand Opening Collage

It took almost a year and a half to find a place, negotiate the build out and rent, get the work done to the space and then set up the retail space and the kitchen.  The opening went better than we could have hoped for and now we are fully open for business.

Are we using lean in the business?  You bet.  We aren’t perfect and we have a long way to go, but we have always applied the biggest tenant of lean from the start.  Focus on value for the customer.  We believe the customer sets the market price for the product and our profit is that price minus our cost without suffering quality.

We know our target market and that is who we aim to please.  Our products may not be for everyone but for our target market we want to drive a high value proposition.

Here’s to new adventures!

Lean Culture Change

Recently, I had the opportunity to tour a local company that does sheet metal work.  The company does not advertise being lean, although they are a part of our lean consortium.  When you walk in the manufacturing facility you would be surprised at what you DON’T see.  There aren’t 5S markings or visual production boards or kanban levels anywhere to be seen.

What the company is doing is the hard work.  The are working to change their culture.  They are focusing on it everyday from the leadership down to the floor.

The company is Webco Manufacturing.

What they have done is come up with The Webco Way.  Thirty-one fundamentals for everyone to focus on improving.  Here are just a few:

  1. Do the right thing
  2. Check your ego at the door
  3. Take ownership
  4. Practice blameless problem solving
  5. Be process oriented
  6. Continuously improve everything you do
  7. Embrace change

These are just a few.  I encourage you to visit Webco’s website to see the complete list and a description of each.

You might think 31 is a lot to remember.  I did too, but it is working for them.  They focus on one fundamental every single day.

A fundamental is chosen for the week.  A member of the leadership team sends out their perspective of the fundamental for the week every Sunday night to everyone with e-mail in the company.  During the week, every meeting consisting of more than 2 people is started by reading the quick description of the fundamental and giving an example of how it is brought to life.

This includes meetings with supplier and customers.  The meeting could be 1 Webco employee and 5 suppliers but they will start the meeting with the fundamental of the week.  This is to let customers and suppliers know what they are trying to do and helps to drive the same expectations from their customers and suppliers.

Webco may not claim to be lean, but the culture they are driving and the way they are going about it sure seems like a lean culture to me.

What are your thoughts?

It’s About Knowing Your Audience

Decisions Don’t Start with Data.  This was a post found on the Harvard Business Review Blog.  This is another attempt to explain how marketers are the kings of the world telling us what we should buy and we are too stupid to know otherwise.

We buy goods and services because we believe the stories marketers build around them:  “A diamond is forever” (De Beers), “Real Beauty” (Dove), “Think different” (Apple), “Just do it” (Nike).

That was my favorite excerpt from the post.  Thanks marketers, because I wasn’t sure what running shoe I wanted but “Just Do It” has now made up my mind.

The point I got from the post was that people don’t make decisions based on data, it is based on emotions.

To influence human decision making, you have to get to the place where decisions are really made — in the unconscious mind, where emotions rule, and data is mostly absent. Yes, even the most savvy executives begin to make choices this way. They get an intent, or a desire, or a want in their unconscious minds, then decide to pursue it and act on that decision. Only after that do they become consciously aware of what they’ve decided and start to justify it with rational argument.

While I do believe this is true.  It does not mean it is right.  Just because executives do this does not mean we should succumb to their ridiculous decisions and not present the data.

I do believe we make decisions on data, whether it is consciously or subconsciously.

Apple may say “Think Different”, but if their product is crap and is breaking all the time a person wouldn’t buy it.

“A diamond is forever” doesn’t make me buy from DeBeers.  It is there customer service and quality.

There was some form of information that is driving the decision.

I do agree with the author that when presenting a group with a new and possible radical idea that a person should approach his audience in a way that will get their attention.

For some that may mean presenting straight data.  For others, presenting a story or a “what’s in it for me?” point of view and weaving the data in.

This isn’t about data and decision making.  It is about knowing your audience and adjusting your approach to help meet the audience see your point of view.

Apple Store Not Focused on Customer

I do like the Apple products.  I have found them to be easy to use and high quality.  I have the original iPad (although half my apps won’t update anymore) and I think the Apple music players are still the best on the market.

That being said, I think Apple is very limiting in it’s openness and they will do things their way at the cost of customers at times.  I use iTunes as an example.  It is very hard to buy music, books, movies, etc… on iTunes and then be able to use them on an Android device.

Recently, I had another experience that showed me Apple wants things their way and aren’t focused on the customer.  I bought an iPod Nano for my wife for her birthday.   I ordered it online so I could have it engraved and picked it up at a local Apple store which was the first time I had ever been in an Apple store.  My wife used it 3 times, did not drop it and the screen has completely popped off.

I decided I would take the 30 minute drive to the closest Apple store and get the iPod replaced.  I arrived at 2:30pm and was greeted by someone who then handed me off to someone else to here about my issue.  They were glad to exchange the iPod but there would be no engraving since they don’t do that in the store.  I wasn’t happy about that but the engraving was free and I was hoping to walk out with a new iPod so I was too worried about it.

I was then informed that I couldn’t exchange it until 6pm that evening.  Three and a half hours later!  My first question was “why?”.  I was told a technician had to do it and the earliest appointment for a technician was at 6pm.  Of course, I asked “why does a tech have to do it?”.  That is when I got my favorite response of all time, “Because it is a legal transaction and serial numbers needed to be written down.”

My jaw hit the floor as I asked how long it would take and the woman said, “Oh it will take less than 10 minutes.”

Now my eyes popped out of my head.  So, I was going to have to wait 3.5 hrs for a tech to do a less than 10 minute transaction.  A transaction that would have already been done by any worker in the store if I would have bought the iPod at Target or Walmart.

My first thought is that Apple does not respect their store employees because they don’t trust anyone to do a simple exchange transaction.  Really.  Think about it.  Think about some of the people that have done exchanges/returns for you at Walmart.  The process shouldn’t be that hard.

Secondly, here I am.  An upset customer because a barely used product 2 weeks old is completely busted and now I will have to wait 3.5 hours to get it exchanged.  Now I am doubly upset.

I did not have time to wait and took my iPod home.

A few days later, I took the iPod to the Apple store close to my place of work.  I went in without an appointment just to see what would happen.  I got a new iPod in minutes and was out the door.

I’m not sure if that was an Apple policy or a store policy causing the issue at the first store.  Either way, they weren’t focused on creating a good customer experience which can lead to lost sales and in my case my just do that in the future.

Blog Reader Survey: I want to hear about your needs from the blog

Recently, I have been participating in a series of conversations with a small group of other bloggers about how to improve the online lean learning community.

We thought it best to start with what you thought, so we’d like you to take a few minutes to answer a series of 10 questions to get us going.

As a thank you for your help, this link will take you to a zip file with some free content from Jeff Hajek, Chad Walters and myself.

Link to our survey

Meet Customer Expectations AND Have Operational Excellence

I am way behind in my blog reading.  When reading some of my backlog, I found this great post by Brad Power over at Harvard Business Review.

Why was it great?  Brad talked about how meeting the customer expectations and operational excellence are not opposites.  Business should be doing BOTH and the ones that do have great success.

What is more important to company success, a strong external focus on customer experiences or an internal focus on effective and efficient operations?

Of course, it’s a false dichotomy — you need both. I described in an earlier post how Tesco worked for years to improve its supply chain capabilities, then leveraged this value by using deeper customer knowledge to enrich customer experiences.

Brad uses two great examples.  One is L.L. Bean that provides goods to consumers.  The other is ThedaCare which provides medical services to people.  He shows how meeting customer expectations and having operational excellence can work in either industry.

Many hospitals began pursuing the “triple aim”: better patient experiences, consistent quality, and lower costs. Hospitals such as Virginia Mason and ThedaCare adopted process improvement systems from manufacturing (“Lean” and the “Toyota Production System”) to deliver increased consistency, reliability, and quality. While skeptics are right when they say, “Patients are not cars,” the reality is that medical care is, in fact, delivered through extraordinarily complex organizations, with thousands of interacting processes, much like a factory.

Most in the lean community are aware of the great work ThedaCare and Virginia Mason have been doing.  It is great to see it highlighted on the HBR Blog.

Something that the lean community has stressed for a very long time is focus on delivering value for the customer first and then determine how to deliver that value as efficiently as possible and with no waste.

There is so much written about lean that is wrong or misunderstood.  It is great to see a post discussing how companies can use lean properly to help them compete and win.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,376 other followers