Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lean is Back to the Future!

Let's take a ride back to the future to when many of us were at our very leanest. Back in the day.
 
When our business is new, there usually isn't much in the way of waste. When we get orders, we can SEE them. We hold them up and say, "we got this one right here!" We call our suppliers, and they send us what we need to add value. As we fulfill our orders, we can SEE value being added. We make sure it works and then we watch the truck transport it away to our customer. We seldom made extra to keep for later. We  even called our customer to let them know it was on its way, and called them again to see if they liked it. When they called, we either picked up the phone, or called them back really fast. They never waited on hold, and never got bounced around on hold like a ping pong ball. Everyone in the company celebrated success, and we stayed late to work on problems. If we kept doing it well, people liked us more and more; and we get more orders. We didn't think about cross-training because we were. Sooner or later, if we keep it up, and if we paid close attention to our customers, we get so many orders we need to buy a computer to keep them straight, and hire more people to  help us fill more orders. Then we need to promote or hire some managers to keep the people busy and productive. If we keep it up (pleasing our customers), purchase orders, invoices, quality checks and sign-offs keep increasing. We have to build silos, I mean departments of people to keep track of all this. We add managers to manage managers, we add IT people to keep our computer working, and HR to protect our people from themselves. We build offices for our managers and warehouses for our inventory. We have so many orders we can't hold them in our hand, but some are more important or urgent so we need to expedite some of them.

We become so focused on keeping all of this infrastructure going, that sometimes we often forget to go find out if our customer likes us, or forget to call them to see if they got and like their order. (If they don't call to complain, they must still like us, right?) 

Lean is about going back in time somewhat to the "good old days". Even if we can't hold the orders in our hand, can we make them more visible by putting them on a production board? Can we go back to making what we can sell (not store)? Can we call at least one of our great customers every day to tell them we love them and see if they still love us? Can we build our quality checks into the work, not passing anything along for someone else to say good or no good? Can we spend more time with our people and less time on the computer or in the conference room?  In the beginning, EVERY customer and EVERY order was vitally important-can we go back to that?  Can we restore the sense of purpose that we had when we KNEW we were something special to the world, and not just a place to work?

For me, THAT was my favorite benefit of lean.

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