Living Kanban (in Tokyo)

We’re on a global sales meeting in Tokyo and I never realized that I would be facing kanban epiphanies here. Yet everywhere we go we notice the Japanese meticulous focus on efficiency and flow. Most office buuldings we visited have a version of an RFID-based Kanban system to manage and control the flow of visitors in the building. Very similar to the story Dave Anderson describes in his Kanban Method book. In fact, I visited today the very East Garden of the Imperial Palace where kanban cards are tracking visitors.
I went to small restaurants where kanban cards track the flow of guests and their belongings (like the shoes you take off at the entrance).
Thinking uninterrupted customer flow can become second nature for us, our teams and it seems entire industries.

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.

Lean Sales and High Growth Business Models

The recent business literature is awash with articles questioning the long term value add of Lean and Six Sigma initiatives. What started out as a checklist of success for Six Sigma and Lean projects, in the last few years turned into an all-out frontal attack on the approach; culminating in CBSNews calling Six Sigma the #1 stupidest management fad of all time.

Interestingly Lean focus brings a lot of speed to businesses partially because it eliminates waste and partially because of the enormous focus of customer driven activities. Six Sigma (not my expertise) had a strong focus on quality. The combination promised higher agility and higher quality. Many businesses (Kodak, 3M, Motorola, etc) that became world class Six Sigma shops were criticized by repeatedly missing business model innovation and be outrun by what should be ‘less agile’ competitors.

The main design principles for SCALE (our version of Lean Kanban) was to keep a balance between speed (Lean), business model innovation (our PSS method or BMG approach) and customer pull (Kanban).

In its ideal manifestation:

  • we innovate solutions that the customers get fired up about (pull),
  • we only work on activities that are customer facing and customer paid (by spending time, resources or money),
  • we limit all non-value added and waste activities (Lean/Kanban)
  • keep all of our work visible to everyone inside the firm (Lean/Kanban)
  • measure our baseline and keep changing our approach so we get better (Lean/Kanban)

We redefined our Lean principles to best suit our needs in 5 rules:

  1. Focus on customer value creation (PULL)
  2. Make the team’s work visible
  3. Limit the tasks you are juggling (WIP)
  4. Measure your effectiveness (not efficiency)
  5. Continuously strive to improve

The journey is now ON.

lean principles

Launching a Lean Sales Transformation


Despite 50 years of Lean in manufacturing and a decade or two in high tech, you still have to look far and wide to find great stories of sales-driven Lean programs.  Which is amazing considering Lean is all about sales and the customer. It should be all about Pull.

So in January 2013 we decided to take a successful strategic sales organization focused on complex enterprise technology sales at the board level – and turn it to Lean.

We have a year. We will do it faster. And learn along the way.
Only a week into the effort we already connected with several Lean Sensei at various auto (of course), tech and industrial manufacturing firms and started gathering their learning as well.

– double the revenues per headcount in our group
– respond to customer requests in half the time

It will be a fantastic journey combining the best of 3 philosophies:
LEAN (especially the LEI variety), Kanban Method by Dave Anderson and our own business model innovation process called P/S/S (more on that later…)

We are looking forward to fascinating learning, great collaboration and fun times ahead. And most importantly – very happy customers spending twice as much in half the time.