Making Lean Efforts Truly Lean

There are many Lean initiatives that get caught up in discussions about tools, continuous improvement experts, various belt colors and takt time and what gets lost is that such programs should be customer facing.
I’m not about to take on the manufacturing establishment, however it is worth noting a few important facts.

  • Services are a much larger portion of the economy than manufacturing yet most Lean initiatives are stuck in the plant.
  • If Lean is all about the customer, why is it that a very tiny fraction of Lean Enterprise initiatives start with the customer facing processes like sales. Sales is the only truly real customer PULL. Why is it being ignored?
  • While there are some customer service oriented Lean projects, many customer service processes are inherently about rework, defect and fixing lack of first time quality.
  • Less than 0.1% of lean training, certification and literature is actually focused on customer facing processes (sales, marketing and service).

Brent Wahba’s book called The Fluff Cycle is one of the very few comprehensive treatments of lean selling. While non-value added activity and waste in a world class manufacturing facility hovers well below 40% it is above 80% in sales and backoffice functions. Wouldn’t it be wise to focus on these first?
Also, creating Lean processes in the plant to make what the customers do not want (in environments where sales is not Lean and follows a PUSH and not a PULL model of selling) is simply wasteful. No matter how well you build to the Takt time while eroding market share.
I hope over the next few years Lean will expand to where it belongs: facing the customer.
In the meantime we will make our small contributions towards that goal.

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