Sunday, March 9, 2014

LEAN is Fun!!! (Eventually)

Have you ever heard another human being say at some party, "Yeah, we started doing lean at work, and it's fun!!" Either (a) take that person's car keys away, DO NOT let them drive, or (b) they aren't doing lean right at work.

Don't get me wrong. After you do it awhile (years not weeks), it does definitely get fun. Getting lean going is nearly impossible to do without what Womack calls a "lever". The point is, you don't do lean to keep up with the Jones'. Poor ROI, high turnover, too may errors, poor cash flow, or just plain too much chaos are all good examples of good healthy levers. If you are making money hand over fist, everyone is pumped when they get to work, and your customers absolutely love you, don't do lean. It is way too hard. The good news (and I lived this first hand) is that it works like crazy. 

Just keep in mind that most of the "pain" in doing lean is all mental. The change management is all between the ears. Nobody has to dig a two mile trench in 90 degree weather. A lot of the pain involves everyone realizing that what we are doing ain't working and changing it.

I PROMISE that if you stay with it, you will see incredible improvements. Just DON'T PUNT on 2nd down!! Don't bite off more than you can chew. Work on getting everyone working to improve every process for 15-20 minutes every day. Too busy is no excuse. Everyone is busy. Can everyone spend 15 minutes working ON the business vs. IN the business?

For those of you who have gone through the hard part, now the fun starts. Now you can take advantage of a team of people who are unafraid of change. This is a very dangerous strategic weapon. Particularly when you aim it at processes that directly touch your customers. Let me give you an example.

One day, several years ago, one of our employees stood up in front of everyone and said, "what if our customers never, ever had to go into voice mail?  Several other people laughed. The person who said it had to eat lunch alone for awhile. Keep in mind that TRUE innovation is never accepted at first. (If everyone automatically buys in, the idea is probably not much different that what we do now). People in their right mind produced data that showed call volumes at certain times of the day, etc. There were plenty of reasons to move on. 

But, we're talking about a group of 75 people who did 375 A3 projects in one year. The only constant was change. Long story short. Customers hardly ever went into voicemail. Customers who wanted to order something were always sent to the next available person, even if that person was in California. We know people weren't going into voicemail because we measured it and made the metric visible.

If someone had a technical question, the call went from the receptionist directly to one of 10 people's cellphones. Immediately. We measured how often people got bounced back to the receptionist, and how often they hung up and had to call back. Whenever this happened, an A3 was done to do the DMAIC and a countermeasure was put in place. If a customer needed an answer on a Saturday night or at 2am, they got a human!! Most of us think innovative thinking means new products. It also means being so dramatically different that people will gladly pay extra.

The idea is not to satisfy your customers....they EXPECT that. The idea is to DELIGHT them. When your customers and competitors are scratching their heads, saying "how'd they do that?"......now lean is fun! 

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