Four tips to make Lean more customer-centric

Four tips to make Lean more customer-centric

Lean and BPM practitioners need to add to their toolbox

In Part 1 of this series we examined basic evidence that supports whatcould be construed as an outrageous claim: that most lean service programmes don’t deliver much value to the customer.

In Part 2 we expanded on this and examine how reductionist thinking patterns create behaviours where the customer becomes almost an afterthought.

In our final part of this series we examine what BPM and Lean Practitioners should do differently

There are many approaches you can take to place the customer at the centre of a company. Below are my top four relevant to Lean and BPM, based on my experience.

1)         Add tools that handle unstructured process to the Lean toolbox

The Lean toolbox is packed full of tools and methods. Manyof these are highly applicable to what we term structured process. These are the processes where there is very little acceptable variation i.e. what you would typically see on a production line.

Variation is inherent in service processes and rather than try to eliminate it, we should embrace it. The Lean practitioner’s toolbox should be supplemented with other techniques that are appropriate to the organisation’s challenges and particularly those that manage unstructured processes.

2)         Move away from problem to outcome statements as the project start point

Reframing the project into a series of outcomes not only eliminates the symptom first observed but aligns its self to the wider customer agenda. We define the outcome framework at five levels i.e. outcome to customer, outcome to company (i.e. P&L), outcome to employee, outcome to stakeholder (e.g. investors) and outcome to social agenda (rarely considered). If successful customer outcomes are considered as a primary focus throughout the change process, then the impact on customer will always be higher.

3)         Add new customer outcome techniques to the Lean Toolbox

Methods to understand the customer rely mostly on Voice of Customer, brainstorming and idea-organisation techniques such as Affinity Mapping. I have written many times that this gives only a partial understanding of customer wants and needs. When qualified on wants and needs, customers tendto a) answer in the context of the business they perceive the interviewer is in b) the issues that are most immediate at the time qualification happened and c)an extrapolation of their current situation i.e. cheaper, faster or better.

What I still find incredible is the quote where Henry Ford (might have) said “if I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” is one of the most well-known business quotes ever. The point is incredibly strong – you might say obvious – yet more than 70 years after the great man died if we want to know what our customers want, business people still go and ask them. In fact, it’s recognised as part of best practice, yet by itself this is hugely suboptimal. It seems that too many people simply follow the herd. New outcome-based methods to derivewants and needs are not only available, but they are easy to learn and derive considerably deeper insight. This is not to say Voice of Customer is dead, but it becomes better suited to rationalise and test customer hypotheses.

4)         Make process change an inclusive process accessible to anyone in the organisation

Have you ever seen how a non-process person reacts to avalue stream map? Before I became involved in process it was double-dutch. Itmeant nothing. When the tools and techniques and even language becomes sospecialised that only trained practitioners understand then guess what happens: change ends up being imposed. Executives try making this change easier to absorb by suggesting proposed future states are reviewed with staff before being implemented but this is really little more than a “benevolent oligarchy”. No matter how benevolently you try to implement it, imposed change creates distrust and resistance.

Typical value stream map

Inclusive change means that staff are proactively involved with the change programme. This means we need simpler tools that do not require significant training to use and understand. The good news is they are here, but most Lean practitioners are not aware of them or can see the benefits.

Lean still has a part to play but companies should accept that Lean best practice is the start point not the end point. New thinking and methods should be addedwhich are applicable to the type of organisation and the more critical goals.

There is no point giving somebody a knife to cut through a difficult problem if you forget to sharpen it!

Charles Bennett

Founder & CEO. Charles is an acknowledged leader in customer-driven performance change using both best practice and emerging next practice perspectives. He leads, mentors and coaches in both strategic and operational initiatives. A strong believer is the potential for "supercompany performance" he innovates using next practice thinking and methods to enhance the business. He researches heavily to retain his reputation as a thought leader, which he has applied across 40 countries, multiple sectors and companies such as Citibank, Nielsen, Microsoft, Vodafone, Tracker and governments in Middle East and Asia. Contributes to business journals and often invited as a speaker or chairman to events all over the world.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Charles,
    interesting set of articles. It’s amazing to me how companies focus on the bottom line but there’s no bottom line without customers. I’ve also found bad decisions in other parts of the business impact decision making in the customer focused activities. Yet, it’s the customer facing parts of the business that have to sacrifice, and this inevitably leads to upset clients, stressed employees and bad morale.
    It’s a balancing act, we all know this, to design processes and procedures that are uniform so you can create a “plug in and play” approach so you’re incurring additional costs to customize programs and services. I think a lot of this could be avoided if the various departments within a company are aligned, so that sales is not selling a solution just to win the business It’s a the age old challenge. no matter which industry I’ve worked in, failure to properly align because of weak communication protocols, leads to problems down stream.

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