Exclusive Jim Womack Q&A, Part 5


Many thanks, again to Jim Womack, from the Lean Enterprise Institute and the book Lean Solutions, for participating in this special Q&A. This is the fifth and final part of the series, be sure to visit the first four parts. I hope you'll come back to the Lean Manufacturing Blog for other topics and discussion in the future.

Part 1 ……. Part 2 ……… Part 3 …… Part 4

(From Bryan M., New Brunswick Canada)

Q: What specific advantages (besides shortened lead times) can implementing lean deliver that will increase sales? Are the principles of Lean transferable to the sales process and if so, how?

We are all going to reap major gains, especially in manufacturing, when lean thinking is finally embraced by the sales force. Right now everyone is filling large buckets for bonuses (the end of the month, the end of the quarter, the end of the year) while making crazy promises about deliveries and continually redoing the schedule. “Heijunka selling” is going to be one of the great contributions to civilization in the future. Perhaps Brian can make the break through?! (Hint: Instead of making the quarter, how about making the week then day? Then the hour? Lean thinkers always want to reduce batch sizes.)

(From Mark G.)

Q: Are you happy with the impact that the Lean Enterprise Institute has had, as opposed to your pre-LEI writing and consulting work? How do you expect the LEI to evolve over time?

Jim here: I'm never happy with anything. I'm a lean thinker! We've only been at our task at LEI for eight years, which is a really short stretch given the long history of process thinking. Our mission is to extract all of the lean knowledge that's out there, write it down in simple language with good examples, teach it to everyone who wants to learn, and conduct public events where we try to raise consciousness, create enthusiasm, and give lean thinkers courage to take bold steps.

We aren't consultants with one possible exception: Companies often call wanting to know how they can be the Toyota of their particular activity. We then simply take a walk with them, and often with their customers and suppliers as well, to help everyone see their core processes and how badly they currently work. We then suggest a simple action plan, put them in touch with others firms who are already leaning similar businesses or with technical advisors who might be able to give them further insights, and tell them to call back if they do enough that they are worthy of putting in a book!

In the case of Lean Solutions, this is just what happened with Tesco, GFS, and several of the other examples. They called Dan, they took a walk, and – we hope – they are now on the verge of transforming whole industries. In the years ahead we are hoping to do lots of more of these walks because we've found that we are now at a point in most industries where we must take an active role in creating breakthrough examples.

(From Mark E., Dallas TX)

Q: Regarding the “challenges of consumption”: Agreed, customer service levels have deteriorated since the 80s for reasons listed in your Preface. Do you think lower customer service levels are in part consumers' choice? Witness the demise of full service retailers with well trained staff, and the rise of the large discount retailers with limited, less-skilled staff. Hasn't the consumer voted with their business, and chosen the lower priced, lower service-level “do it yourself” model? I see Walmart.com booming and Gateway Retail Stores boarded up. Or will we now see these low cost channels offer higher service levels for a fee (think Dell with their Premier corporate accounts, and their high-end XPS line)?

Dear Mark: You still haven't gotten our point. Good service costs less. Bad service costs more. Remember that twenty years ago most folks couldn't believe that good quality costs less, particularly when you look at total cost including warranty. It's the same mind shift. I think we do a pretty good job of explaining why in the book and what to do about the miserable service we all suffer from.

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Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

New Q&A February 2006

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.



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