FIX WHAT BUGS YOUR CUSTOMER – Getting LEAN beyond the manufacturing floor

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During a recent visit in Rhode Island, a customer and friend of our organization complained about the features of our WiFi thermostat and Iphone App. He just didn’t like the interface with the control application. He struggled with understanding if the HVAC equipment was running and he didn’t like not being able to program the system settings directly from the Iphone App. Our phone interface bugged him. What happens when our customer’s get repeatedly frustrated with experiencing our product, services or people? You know the answer. They’ll be gone.

frustrated

We have been learning and growing in our LEAN journey at Cambridge. My key learning has come in the form of exposure to the energy and passion of our Operations staff for documented improvements in our plant. I’ve been drawn into the LEAN vortex in operations because of our people and their commitment to improving things every day. Unfortunately, the passion for LEAN has not translated to the same awesome level of enthusiasm and commitment beyond the factory floor. Like many in the sales, the customer service and the marketing departments, I have struggled to document meaningful process improvements. My focus on fixing what bugs me has yet to yield the transformational improvements that are possible for me and my team. While transformational improvements are not our stated objective, I find myself feeling reluctant to put forth additional 2-second Lean improvements. Others in my organization have shared similar frustrations. Paul Akers, the author of the book 2-Second Lean, details that every organization hits plateaus in LEAN and persistence is needed to push through to another level.

My perspective on LEAN shifted during this Rhode Island trip to VIBCO, a family owned U.S. based manufacturing organization. I want to share my perspective shift in hopes that it might unlock more people regarding how LEAN practices can propel all of us forward into closer relationships with our customers. I am shifting my thinking from fixing what bugs me to fixing what bugs my customer. Over the last year, I have spent the majority of my time looking at my processes, my environment, my efficiency, my organization, my wasted time and energy.

As I reflect on the power of our Customer Service team, I believe their stellar reputation in the HVAC industry is built upon this hard wired philosophy of helping customers solve problems fast. They strive to support the customer quickly. Both on the phone and on site, our customer service squad supports solving issues that bug customers. Within our technical advisory team, they support our Reps and contractors with information, analysis and design to make their customers more effective with their customer. They have a guaranteed 24 turn around commitment to their customer and typically deliver in less than 4 hours. LEAN beyond the manufacturing plant dock doors is all about fixing what bugs customers.

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I’ll report back on the progress we make creating our own LEAN Sales Vortex. We are building our 15 minute daily stand up meeting agenda now. It will include building and fixing customer issues and new ideas for customer improvements. We will be discussing our “Go and Watch” plans for cross functional team learning and customer centric improvements. Finally, we will be outlining our Revenue team external exposure plans so that we can provide an environment to unlock everyone’s genius for fixing what bugs our customers.

Is it not true that what bugs the customer, likely bugs us the most?

LEAN Sales Cycle – What are you doing to apply LEAN principles to your sales process?

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Our Senior Leadership team recently returned from Japan where they were on an educational journey to bring back ideas from Japanese businesses that had been working on LEAN initiatives for many decades. Their trip included a visit to Lexus, the luxury car maker and part of the Toyota family of brands. As they were departing for their trip I asked that they solicit feedback from the Japanese companies regarding LEAN and it’s applications to sales organizations.

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It Takes Humility to be a Lean Leader

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Recently, in my first blog post, I asked the questions, “Why do financial executives so frequently find themselves following, rather than leading, during a LEAN initiative? Has your company implemented LEAN in the finance/accounting area? If not, why not?” It is my experience that the single biggest obstacle to a creating a truly LEAN culture in an organization is the character of the leaders tasked with implementation. And, among the character traits that we will discuss in these series of blog posts, I truly believe that HUMILITY is at the heart of, and foundational to, any successful effort at LEAN leadership.

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LEAN Leadership Is Unconventional

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As a leader, I have been on a LEAN journey for a number of years. But it was only within the last 12 months that I have been exposed to the concept of LEAN accounting. As my interaction with other LEAN leaders has intensified, I have started to ask the question, “Are you doing anything with LEAN in your accounting area?” And, almost without exception, the answer is “no,” or “not yet.” However, this isn’t surprising, as had you asked me the same question just 6 months ago, the answer would have been identical.

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