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 VOCs. 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.
- 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
One Man’s Lean Journey: Respect People and They Will Fight for You
My internship with Thomson Consumer Electronics (TCE) gave me a lot of learning opportunities. One of the biggest learnings I had was around people.
The assignment was to oversee the completion of rebuilding several hundred television sets. This was back in the day of picture tubes and rear projection TVs. The sets would be sold in discount shops across the country.
The manufacturing facility was well known for its union and their insanity to horn-swaggle the company. The assignment typically takes 7-8 weeks. I was given a union crew and the production area was set up a good 1/4 mile from the nearest production area.
The first week went bye with no problem. Then in the second week we started encountering hiccups in our production. The typical stuff. We didn’t have the parts we needed, there was no one to move the product for us and even some good old-fashioned infighting in the group.
I pulled the team together and we discussed not having the parts we needed. I asked them how we should be producing the TVs. What sequence would work best? They commented they had never been asked for their ideas before. The team came up with a sequence based on their knowledge and a process to get the parts. Every afternoon, one of the employees and I would look at what we have completed and look at what was next on the schedule and determine what parts we would need. I would drive my car over the main plant, gather the parts with the employee and help her carry them back to my car.
I addressed the issue with fighting employees as well. We had one-on-ones and worked through their issues of working together.
Our production rate sky-rocketed. It was almost double what I was told we would be able to do based on past history.
Then came the bombshell. One afternoon, a union steward showed up in my area and proceeded to yell at me in the middle of the production area so everyone could hear. Apparently, helping someone carry heavy boxes so they don’t get hurt and helping my employees move TVs is going to put the union out of a job. He was threatening to file a grievance against me.
Being 21-years-old, I didn’t take too kindly to the yelling, especially in front of the employees. So, I proceeded to yell right back about how I will do whatever it takes to help my employees get the work done and he could….well you can use your imagination for the rest.
It wasn’t 45 minutes later, my manager for this project was out there trying to cool me off and telling me to play the union game. I was shocked at how quickly he collapsed to the union. Ridiculous! Truly pissed me off. I told him that if he wanted me to stop then the union needs to stop delaying my work.
This is a lot of back story to get to this. The union employees on my team went to the union head and got the steward to back off. When I asked them why they would do that, the response was “Because we like working for you and you stuck up for us. We should stick up for you.”
My parents had always instilled in me to treat everyone with respect. And this was a moment where that lesson truly became ingrained in me forever.
We finished the project in 4.5 weeks. Almost half the expected time. As a thank you, I gave them a half day “off” where we hung out in our production area and I bought pizza for the team. It really was something I will never forget.
* People appreciate being treated with respect more than anything else you could give them
* Involve the people in improving the work and they will work hard to make sure it gets implemented properly
* Once people feel safe in giving ideas, then the floodgates will open
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:
- Do the right thing
- Check your ego at the door
- Take ownership
- Practice blameless problem solving
- Be process oriented
- Continuously improve everything you do
- 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?
Book Review: Value Stream Mapping
Karen Martin and Mike Osterling are consultants that have been helping companies with seeing their business through a different lens. Karen and Mike have co-authored two books in the past: The Kaizen Event Planner, a well written how-to guide for planning, executing and following up after a kaizen event and Metrics-Based Process Mapping, a how-to for using key metrics to analyze and improve processes. Value Stream Mapping is their third book together and again they have done a fantastic job.
Name of the Book: Value Stream Mapping: How to Visualize Work and Align Leadership for Organizational Transformation
Author: Karen Martin and Mike Osterling
Publication Date: December 2013
Book description: what’s the key message?
Karen and Mike explain the in’s and out’s of understanding and completing a value stream map. They discuss how a value stream map is a tool that can help senior leaders and executives see their business in a new way. A transformative way.
Karen and Mike take the reader through all the steps. They explain the importance of setting the stage prior to the starting the value stream map in order to enable success in changing the business. Karen and Mike also walk the reader through the best ways to understand the current state of the business and the importance of understanding the current reality no matter how sobering it is. Next they walk the reader through developing the future state and then the transformation plan.
This book is not just a “Go do it this way,” book. The book is very complete and explains why the process they describe works.
What are the highlights? What works?
Most people miss the main point of value stream maps. They are about changing the mindsets of an organization through building a strategic direction with a lean lens. Karen and Mike do a great of reiterating this point throughout the book.
If you have never seen or been through a value stream mapping session this book is a great guide. The explanations are spot on. Karen and Mike hit on the most important metrics that can be used on a value stream map in order to get the most out of it. They explain how the map is not complete without the metrics, which is something a lot of people will leave off when doing the map.
The examples of value stream maps in the back of the book can help a reader with guidance in building their own. I know they are in the appendices but it is worth it to study all the examples.
The book also has a link to a downloadable charter and transformation plan templates. I found them to be very helpful.
What are the weaknesses? What’s missing?
The book is very well done. Not only a step-by-step but a great explanation of why for each step. There is one thought that I believe is missing in doing a value stream map. That is the concept and discussion around ideal state.
When doing a value stream map, I find invaluable to have a discussion on the difference between ideal state (perfection) and future state (somewhere between current state and ideal state). Usually, this discussion takes place after building the current state map. The team writes out bullet points of what the ideal state would look like. After that is completed, then build the future state. The ideal state discussion helps to stretch the thinking of the team and as Karen and Mike put it “help change the DNA of the organization.”
Having a direct conversation around ideal state is a step that I feel is important and I wish Karen and Mike would have spent some time on in the book.
How should I read this to get the most out of it?
The book can be used in two ways. One way is by someone that has been tasked to help an organization create a value stream map. It can be used as a learning text book. It can help the reader learn the in’s and out’s of creating a value stream map and give them guidance. Or even as a refresher for an experienced value stream map facilitator.
Another way for the book to be used is as an education piece for executives and senior leaders that want to change their business. It can help them understand their role in the value stream transformation process and how they can help the facilitator before, during and after a mapping session.
Kudos to Karen and Mike for another great book.
Dilbert – Type in All Caps
OK. So this post really doesn’t have much to do with lean. I just found this Dilbert cartoon hysterical.
We could talk about the lack of respect Wally shows his boss by leading him into a potentially awkward situation with another person at work. I prefer to find the humor in people that TYPE IN ALL CAPS NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE SENDING.
What? I couldn’t read all of that. Some of it was in lower case letters.
Have a great day!
True Coaching Takes Investment
The term coach is thrown around a lot in a business setting. Too much in my opinion. Any time spent with someone giving advice or direction is called coaching nowadays. It sounds great when you say you spent time “coaching” someone.
Coaching is more than giving advice. Coaching is an investment in time to really help them along.
Think of any athletic coach you may have had. Basketball, football, tennis, golf, swimming, etc.. Did you ever spend 30 minutes with that person in a café getting advice on a rare occasion and end up calling them coach? Of course not.
Why? Because coaching takes time. You have to spend time in the with the person in the environment you are coaching on and observe and make suggestions as you go along.
Anything else is advice. There is a big difference between giving advice and coaching.
Because of the time investment, a person can’t coach many people in the business environment. The best thing to do is focus on coaching a person or two. Don’t spread yourself thin as a coach because then no one wins. The learner doesn’t get your full attention and does not learn and grow nearly as much. The coach will never see the fruit of their labor come to fruition because the learner never reaches their full potential.
Think about this before taking someone on as their coach. Are you going to be able to devote the time truly necessary to help them along?
Blog Carnival Annual Roundup 2013 – Lean Blitz
At the end of the year, John Hunter does a great job of facilitating an annual roundup of business and lean blogs at Curious Cat Management. The roundup is a review of blogs by other bloggers. This year I have the honor of participating in the Blog Carnival Annual Roundup.
A blog that I discovered a couple of years ago was Lean Blitz written by Chad Walters. I like Chad’s unique way of relating lean and continuous improvement to the sports world, because there are plenty of examples throughout sports to do this.
Take the respect for people as an example. The NFL was ripe with instances of disrespect this year, from the Miami Dolphins’ handling of the bullying in their locker room to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ unclean locker room leading to three players getting MSRA infections. Not only in the NFL but in college also. This post talks about Coach Kelly at Notre Dame not listening to his players when something was wrong with the gauntlet machine. Chad tackles the issue head on in his posts.
Another topic on the blog is error proofing. Chad talks about how Clemson and Notre Dame handled a color out night at their school for a football game. Clemson was a huge success while Notre Dame not so much. He shows some of the differences. Another favorite is how sprinklers popped up in the middle of an NFL game at the end of last year.
Chad has created a unique blog at Lean Blitz. It is a fun and different way to demonstrate lean principles in action in any environment.
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.
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.
Surround Yourself with Good People
Lean organizations work to develop people. Continually, helping people to improve their skills and give them new experiences. When you do this well, these people will shine and really make you shine.
This isn’t just managers that have people that report directly to them. This is also for project managers that are managing people for a short period of time. By fostering the development and encouraging them to make choices with coaching and guidance, you surround yourself with good people. This makes work and projects go smoother and deliver the outcomes you desire.
What are you doing to foster the people around you? How are you helping to surround yourself with good people?