How a Holistic Approach to Lean Drives Customer Satisfaction Print E-mail
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Written by Todd Baggett   
Monday, 30 April 2012 11:59



Getting to the deeper approaches – and benefits.

A holistic approach to Lean pays dividends in terms of customer satisfaction by eliminating many of the causes of customer dissatisfaction. While schedule flexibility and quality are the two most obvious benefits of Lean, there are several others. What are they, and what elements need to be in place for these other benefits to be achieved?

Simplified customer interface processes. A holistic Lean approach adds structure to customer interface processes. Forecasting would be one example. A Lean philosophy pairs a kanban-driven supply chain with a focused approach to a common forecasting methodology. The Lean forecast methodology builds enough upside flexibility into available inventory so that short-term changes in demand can be easily addressed. The program manager analyzes customer forecasts and then sets bonds, rather than letting the customer’s assumptions completely drive the process, as is typical in a traditional MRP-driven process. As a result, the program management focus moves away from last-minute expedites, to ongoing, proactive monitoring of finished goods bond sizes and future demand projections.

Comparatively, a contractor that doesn’t embrace Lean may be working with different forecasting methodologies and levels of accuracy across all customers, or simply smoothing things out with lengthy frozen production windows or requirements that excess material be consumed in the quarter for which it has been forecasted. In addition to driving customer dissatisfaction, this approach also creates heavy demands on program manager time for last minute expedites and dealing with unhappy customers. Cost and obsolescence exposure are also concerns with this approach.

Enhanced communication. Lean manufacturing’s focus on the elimination of waste creates highly visual factories and scheduling tools. Work-in-process is minimized. Five S principles help keep workspaces “easy to read.” A program manager, production manager or customer walking the floor can immediately see shortages and bottlenecks. This, in turn, supports rapid communication of project status and issues.

The focus on waste elimination also helps eliminate many issues that clutter communications processes. For example, design for manufacturability (DfM) and design for testability (DfT) disciplines are typically strongly embedded in Lean systems. Recommendations are made as the project launches, rather than after an issue is impacting quality. These recommendations may be ranked in order of importance to make it easier for the customer to evaluate and justify redesign cost. Communication stays focused on positive steps to reduce cost and improve quality, rather than on the issues arising from a less proactive approach.
Lean processes typically require less human intervention and interpretation, resulting in better system accuracy, reduced nodes in the communication channel and ultimately reduced lead time.

Reduction in third-party surprises. Leaning out the supply chain helps eliminate supply chain surprises. A holistic approach to Lean normally includes mutually agreed upon bonds and simplified transactions via pull signals. Suppliers have a clear understanding of expectations and may even make suggestions on ways to further improve ordering and bond setting processes. The focus on simplifying the forecasting and ordering process cuts cost on both sides, while improving overall visibility into materials availability.

This benefit is further enhanced when suppliers actively participate in continuous improvement efforts or provide technology roadmaps and other trends data to facilitate better business decisions within the contractor.

Faster problem resolution. Lean manufacturing simplifies processes and is very data-driven. When an issue arises, it is relatively easy to identify root cause and make corrective action recommendations. Customers like specificity. A data-driven approach to problem solving provides data-rich recommendations. Ultimately, this speeds problem resolution because customers can clearly understand the issue and the cost/benefits associated with initiating corrective action options. 

This data-driven approach is enhanced with tools such as Six Sigma or an in-house reliability lab. These additional resources can reduce time in identifying issues such as placement equipment inaccuracies, supplier-generated defects and customer handling-related defects.

Including customer feedback in the equation. Lean manufacturing drives a continuous improvement focus, with a relentless focus on improving order velocity, delivered cost and quality. EPIC collects internal performance metrics, which typically correlate directly with the customer experience. In soliciting customer feedback, the account manager and program manager collaborate to determine not only each customer’s perception of performance, but also the customer’s perception of the company’s strengths and weaknesses. This approach to more visceral feedback helps build stronger relationships. 

A very recent example, an EPIC customer that specializes in high-end live broadcast production equipment was able to reduce lead time to its end-market to 48 hr. on orders of complex systems. This is a substantial differentiator with its customer base. EPIC’s Lean model has also significantly reduced systems costs and inventory exposure for this customer.

Todd Baggett is senior vice president, sales & account management at EPIC Technologies (epictech.com). He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Monday, 30 April 2012 15:19
 

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