Lean Manufacturing in a recession – add value or eliminate waste?

Most manufacturers are aware of the basic idea of Lean Thinking – “add value and eliminate waste” – but too many focus on the “eliminate waste” side of the equation and lose sight of the “add value” opportunities. In fact, one of the biggest hidden wastes is “unfulfilled customer needs” and a recession is the best time to tackle it.

Unfortunately – as many of you will have experienced – there’s often little point in actually asking customers what they need. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. They don’t know what you could do for them. Henry Ford put it rather well – “If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have wanted a faster horse!”.
  2. They don’t want to spend lots of their time and effort helping you to run your business better – they’ve enough work to do running their own business, thank you!

So you have to make the effort to make it easy for them – here are five pointers:

  1. Don’t expect them to take time out to complete lengthy questionnaires – I never do. Ask them first and, whenever you can, speak to them direct. When you do, try the following:
  2. Keep it brief. Keep it simple. It’s often better to know what 100 customers think about three things than what three customers think about 100 things.
  3. Offer them choices – if we can turn around your order in less than 48 hours, would that be worth having? Would a Ten-Year Gurantee be of use to you? Would it help if all of the tests were automated?
  4. Give them feedback – we’re planning to report on the survey results by the end of the month – would you like a copy?
  5. And – most important of all – act on what they tell you (then ask what they think and improve it again).

Let me know how you get on…

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