Do not ignore Lean’s most important rule – customer focus

Lean should be all about the customer and processes driven by the customer. Yet many organizations focus on processes that do not interact with the end-customer. In large organization it is naive to assume that internal customers of departments can properly represent the requirements of the end customers of the business.

After a year of doing Lean on the front line of a sales business and interacting with back office Lean initiatives in areas like product development, finance, IT or procurement I concluded the following: unless you are a consultant and making a living running lean initiatives, you should only do them if the following are true:

1) Lean should start in customer facing functions before moving inward

I know this is almost a heresy because any self-respecting Lean expert would have excuses like: sales teams do not follow processes, cannot define standard work, generate too much waste, etc. Manufacturing or back-office functions on the other hand get praised for discipline, process visibility and focus. Maybe. Nothing changes the fact that none of those functions directy address the needs of the end-customer. If we heed the definition of value added work (a solution that exactly meets the customer’s needs and they would pay for) then let’s put the primary interface to the customer (sales/marketing) back in the equation so we can finally live up to that high standard of Value Add. Then the chain is no longer broken and sales can be manufacturing’s customer and manufacturing can be that for procurement and supply chain. And all of them to finance, IT, contracts and so on.

2) All work should be visible. Not just your team’s

One of our biggest experiments in our Lean journey was this: instead of just having visibility to one sales team’s work, our entire global organizations had visibility to everyone else’s tasks, goals, activities and challenges. Also had a single Rolodex of global contacts with all sales activity visible to all. If someone halfway across the world was solving a problem I was trying to – I saw it. If someone was waiting for something downstream from me, I could act.
It is a single global Kanban board where all activities, tasks and KPIs are visible to all. This allows sharing best practices, avoids hiding problems and overall creates great agility in areas like sales which is primarily information based.

3) Reinforce the new process

When we moved to a global Kanban board (Trello) and a global CRM, my email traffic dropped significantly. Most of the questions in the past about who was talking to this or that customer (CRM) or whether anyone was working on a similar project (Kanban) or whether there were some good references etc were all solved by content visible to all. Then I stopped responding to emails about information already available in LEAN tools or just sent the link to the relevant content in those tools. Any behavior change needs to be reinforced before it is ingrained. It starts with those instigating the change and they should never go back to the old ways.

Trello boards

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