LEAN Customer-Centric Thinking

CUSTOMER-CENTRIC LEAN Manufacturing: Excerpts from a conversation with Association for Manufacturing Excellence CEO Paul Kuchuris

PJW: What is LEAN Manufacturing?

AME/Kuchuris: LEAN Manufacturing is basically processes that address waste in the process. This is waste from the stand point of material waste, as well as the stand point of time, from the standpoint of money and effort. So, LEAN will go through a process of saying…“How do you do this?” and walking through step by step by step, and “Why do you do it this way?”…“If we take this out of it, it cleans this up and it’s a lesser probability of mistakes, plus it saves us time, trouble, and money.” That is basically a very simplistic overview of what LEAN process improvement is all about. By the way, LEAN applies to manufacturing; it applies to accounting…it applies to virtually any particular industry you want to look at. In fact, healthcare is very involved in LEAN process improvement.

PJW: What would you say is the most important thing to know about customer-centric thinking when we come to LEAN techniques?

AME/Kuchuris: Asking. And listening. I mean actually thinking about what the customer wants and needs, and asking them to validate that. Not thinking that you know it all is probably the most important thing about being customer focused. The other thing to keep in mind when you look at LEAN process improvement, is “Who is the customer?”

Number One, you have internal customers. Anybody who receives what you are doing is “the customer.” The mentality is that you continually look at them and ask, “What can I do to continually make your job easier?” and, then, “What I am supplying?” The thing is that the mentality is continually being focused on the customer expectation, and how you can meet that, but it takes continual asking and listening to the customer.

PJW: I notice you are saying “mentality.”  As a futurist and strategist, I specialize in helping business leaders effectively communicate their value to their clients. I know that, for many, it is not an easy process. They are not as able sometimes to articulate the value that they receive from clients and that they would like to give to customers. So, how do you help those business leaders?

AME/Kuchuris: I think for those business leaders…it is a matter of patience and structure. People will begin to relate to you if they are comfortable with you, so establishing a relationship is the number one thing that has to be done, whether it is internal or external. But the next step is asking very specific questions about needs, about issues, about pain, about process improvement for your customers. And, being disciplined enough to not respond quickly until the customer totally shares with you his feelings and thoughts and issues that they may have to deal with. And, obviously, where’s the pain? When the customer completes that kind of thing, that’s when you begin to look for ways that whatever you provide can be adjusted, improved, whatever, or re-created, if you will, to more meet the needs of the customer. It is a matter of focus. Too many individuals today and organizations, internally and externally, want to push what they got instead of supply what is needed—that is probably the crispest, most succinct way of putting what I mean.

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