Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lean and the Customer Experience Journey

Image courtesy of SydesJokes
Is your company a lean company? Should it be?

The concept of lean management came up a few times in the last week or two; that kind of coincidence always inspire me to write about the topic at hand.

So I set out to learn a bit more about it. I knew, conceptually, what it was, but digging deeper makes me think that every customer-centric organization ought to be lean. Nay, every organization should be lean so they can be customer-centric.

Whichever way you look at it, it seems to be a solid concept for any organization.

So, what is lean management, also simply referred to as lean?

According to Lean Enterprise Institute, lean management is: a series of practices that develops people to understand and own their problems, and aligns resources to achieve the purpose of the organization. Lean management engages everyone in designing processes to continuously solve problems, improve performance, and achieve purpose while consuming the fewest possible resources.

In short, I'd say it's a concept rooted in continuous improvement. Or, as I like to call it, a journey. It's not a one and done. It's not about the destination because the destination changes. Customers evolve. Needs evolve. Businesses evolve. Products evolve. The journey to be the best, to design a great experience, and to deliver value to your customers is a long, ongoing one.

Back to defining lean.

TechTarget defines it as seeking: to eliminate any waste of time, effort or money by identifying each step in a business process and then revising or cutting out steps that do not create value. The philosophy has its roots in manufacturing.

Guiding principles for lean management include:
  • Defining value from the standpoint of the end customer.
  • Identifying each step in a business process and eliminating those steps that do not create value.
  • Making the value-creating steps occur in tight sequence.
  • Repeating the first three steps on a continuous basis until all waste has been eliminated.
Defining and delivering value for customers is a key area of focus for customer experience professionals. You might have thought that price was a huge driving factor for why customers buy.  Price is secondary to value; if you've delivered value, price is less of an issue. Customers will pay if companies deliver on their promises, fill a need, and do it with minimal effort on the customer's part.

But don't take my word for it. Value is defined by your customers, by each individual customer. It doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. This is why you listen to customers. This is why you need to understand your customers. This is why you map their journeys, identify key moments of truth, measure where you don't deliver value or where you fall down, and employ continuous improvement processes to reduce pain and effort, iterating until you've got it right. Of course, once you've got it right, the target moves and you continue to iterate. Regardless, it's all about when the customer says the company has delivered value, not when the company thinks it has.

Of course, integral to this are your employees and an organizational transformation, a shift in the culture and in the way of thinking and doing.

There's a lot of good stuff under the hood of lean management, so I'll be taking a look at many of its components over the next several months.

It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory. -W. Edwards Deming

6 comments:

  1. Nice overview, Annette!

    My wife (Sally) uses Lean in her process improvement work at Starwood Hotels. They do a lot of the things you described in your post. What's so cool about it is they engage associates to define challenges, identify root causes, and create solutions.

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    1. I love that... best way to implement any initiative, i.e., let the employees be involved in defining and implementing it, rather than forcing it on the organization. Does a lot for buy-in and commitment.

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  2. Hi Annette,
    I'd suggest you go further and look into the roots of lean thinking and look into systems thinking too.

    Adrian

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  3. Annette,

    It is sad how badly "Lean" has been twisted by most organisations to be just a way to take cost out, and the reputation that this has driven.

    James

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    1. Ugh. Hence, Adrian's point to go back and look at the roots of lean thinking.

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