Another tool, which I find useful to clearly identify customers / suppliers and their requirements, is SIPOC. The model looks at who supplies information etc into your department and what their requirements are; and who you supply information etc to and what their requirements are. (For a fuller description of SIPOC, visit www.nicholsonconsultancy.com/resources.htm).
If you can also get the departments who are upstream and downstream of your operation in the room while looking at the model, it’s amazing the improvements that can come about.
Simply asking the question, “What are your requirements of our department” can produce amazing results. I’ve worked in a number of companies where Dept A has religiously kept data and stored it neatly in a file in the assumption that it’s essential information for Dept B … who didn’t even know the file existed! Talking to the departments who you service and who service you can save companies time, and SIPOC is an excellent tool to facilitate the conversations.
It’s important to remember that Lean is not all about cost-cutting. It’s a valuable tool to help you grow your business. To me, Lean is learning about the purpose, process and people involved in your business. It’s about designing systems that respond to your customers’ needs, and increasing your capacity so you can meet those needs. But remember, there is a big difference between a want and a need – the customer might want a drill, but what he really needs is a hole!
In order to find out what your customer needs, you have to talk to them – keep in mind that your customer could also be the next department in the flow. As a starting point to clearly understanding customer requirements, I tend to use the Kano model and questionnaire. The Kano model looks at the “Must-have”, “Should-have” and “Could-have” attributes that customers expect in relation to your products/service. For a more detailed explanation of the model, read or download our pdf on The Basics of the Kano Model.
Remember the more you understand about your customer, the more you can do for them, the more you can sell them, and the less time you spend on unnecessary activities.