Lean Manufacturing, Part 3

19 Oct, 2005 By: Jeffrey Rowe

The concept of lean consumption takes process efficiencies one step further: to the consumer

In the past two issues of MCAD Tech News (click here for archives), we discussed how the full benefits of lean manufacturing are realized when its principles are applied enterprisewide, and how optimizing manufacturing can pay huge dividends. I want to conclude this short series on lean principles and trends by introducing a relatively new concept known as lean consumption -- an interesting extension of lean principles relating to process management and production. This is a very different spin on lean practices and one that is just starting to gain traction.

Deteriorating Consumer Experiences

Probably the best current resource on lean consumption is a book I just finished, Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Wealth Together, by James Womack and Daniel Jones. The concept of lean consumption arose from observations made by the two authors. Although they are encouraged by the number of organizations improving their internal processes through lean production practices, they also note that the "experiences of consumers seem to be deteriorating." Lean consumption's main focus is improving processes to ensure that consumers get exactly the goods and services they want.

The authors are well-recognized authorities in the lean-business movement. Lean Solutions is their fifth book together and, as in their previous books, gets a lot of its inspiration from the authors' interest in Japanese business methods and philosophies.

In the book, the authors cite several examples of poor consumption experiences that we have all encountered, such as purchasing a computer, buying a vehicle or getting it repaired. They describe lean consumption as an ongoing process and one that requires consumers to take a proactive approach over a period of time to obtain the products they really want -- not just accept what is offered. This whole process involves researching, obtaining, installing, integrating, maintaining, upgrading and disposing of products -- and problems in any one step can cause the consumer major heartburn.

Creating a Happy Union

This book is about successfully bringing together the manufacturer/producer and consumer so that time, effort and money are not wasted by either party -- sort of a collaborative consumption model. The authors establish their new lean-consumption principles by describing how to eliminate what they consider inefficiency during consumption.

Lean principles have been adopted by many businesses, and manufacturing quality has steadily risen as a result. Yet why are customers still often dissatisfied with their experiences using the products? The authors contend that by implementing lean business principles, companies have successfully improved their manufacturing and product-development environments, but have not extended these principles to the overall customer relationship and experience. In other words, they have not taken into account the need for leanness in all aspects of a company's customer interactions.

What Customers Deserve

The book presents a new perspective on how lean practices might be applied beyond manufacturing processes to customer experiences. The structure of Lean Solutions centers on six results the authors believe customers should demand.

  • Solve my problem completely.
  • Don't waste my time.
  • Provide exactly what I want.
  • Deliver value where I want it.
  • Supply value when I want it.
  • Reduce the number of decisions I must make to solve my problems.

Today, a void exists between consumers and providers. Consumers have a greater selection of higher-quality goods to choose from and can obtain these items from a growing number of sources that promise to solve problems and fulfill every need. So why aren't consumers happier? Because everything surrounding the process of obtaining and using all these products can potentially cause frustration and disappointment.

The authors dissect the current dysfunctional producer-consumer model and describe how to repair it. Across all industries, companies that apply the principles of lean consumption will learn how to provide the full value consumers want from products without wasting time or effort -- theirs or the consumers' -- and as a result, these companies will be more competitive and profitable.

Success in Action

Lean Solutions contains success stories that illustrate how several companies have transformed the way they solve problems by learning how to eliminate the underlying cause of current problems rather than fixing them again and again, resulting in greater customer satisfaction and more lucrative enterprises.

Lean Solutions does a great job of convincing companies to take the first steps toward perfecting processes that deliver what consumers really want and are happy to pay for. All in all, this book shows a completely new side of lean practices, one where producer and consumer share responsibility and mutually benefit.

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