Tag: Think Customer

Great Scott! Potential Sighting of Lean Product Development!

doc-brown1

There’s a scene in Back to the Future 2 where Doc and Marty McFly are trying to figure out how they have come back to a completely different 1985 than they remember.  Doc has a simple timeline up on a chalkboard, trying to outline to Marty how there has somehow been an alternate future created due to Biff getting a hold of a history of sports outcomes, taking the DeLorean back to 1955 and giving it to a young Biff, which is why Doc and Marty can’t travel back to the future from this reality to stop Biff from stealing the time machine because they are in an alternate reality and it won’t happen there…

Ok, you’re right, we’re already getting off-track.  The point is, Doc’s very simple timeline reminds me of how a mature company who gets introduced to lean product development might tend to think:  How can we go back in time and design our products so that all these years they would have cost us less money, taken less work and resources to produce and distribute and innovate against, and provided more value to our customers and our consumers?  Wouldn’t that be nice?

Applying lean concepts in a manufacturing environment, at least to me, seems to be much more straightforward and logical to understand.  The world is more transactional, has shorter cycle times, and tends to already have a plethora of process measurements to pull data and analyze from.  And there are numerous success stories to help sell the thinking and tools (and sometimes just the tools).

When we move to apply lean in the product development world, it always feels like we are starting from scratch.  How good are we at delivering on innovation?  How well do we understand our consumers needs and wants?  How would we even measure the health of our product development process?  Knowledge-based development?  Don’t we already do that?

There is a very good reason why it is important to get lean in the world of product development.  I’ll paraphrase from Ron Mascitelli – No matter how lean you make your factories, if you fill them with fat products, you’ll never realize the full potential of how profitable your product line can be and how much value you can deliver to your customers.  You will always be limited by the waste that is built into the product design very early on in the development process.

So now to the sighting of lean product development.  I don’t even know that this company is lean, knows what lean or lean product development is.  They could simply be very creative!  But what I observed seems to be a great illustrative example of end to end waste reduction through product design.  And I wish I took more pictures to share with you…

We recently finished the inside of our garage, and of course we said, let’s get some nice new cabinets to go with those freshly painted walls!  My wife found a great online deal on a set of NewAge metal cabinets, so we ordered them.  Within a short period of time they delivered a pallet to our garage with two large boxes on it.  Just one pallet, for something that would measure several feet long and tall.  As I looked at the box, I only wondered how much work I would have to do in order to assemble all the different cabinets.  I imagined something similar to a typical piece of Sauder furniture – all the flat side, back, bottom and top pieces nicely tucked into to the boxes with minimal space, but plenty of assembly hardware included.

Garage Cabinets in PalletOne morning I decided to open everything up and calculate how many hours I would need to commit to getting these up on the wall.  I opened the first large box only to find one giant single cabinet inside.  I was concerned – were there several other pallets on their way with other cabinets?  I opened up the doors on the large cabinet and found that inside were several other of the smaller cabinets.  They fit perfectly inside with minimal packing materials.  I moved on to box number 2 and found the same thing – one large cabinet with the other small cabinets inside.  I was very impressed (and happy) – this entire set of cabinets all compressed into one small area on a pallet, and I wasn’t even going to have to assemble them!

I realized with conventional thinking, your cabinet design paradigm might be that all the cabinets had to be the same depth so they were flush with each other and looked nice.  So all you would be able to do is box them individually, or break them down into multiple pieces that the consumer would then need to assemble.  If a conventional product development process designed these cabinets, then it may have taken up several pallet spaces on a delivery truck, multiple SKUs in a warehouse to keep track of, and extra inventory of each of those SKUs.  And if a company wanted to take cost out of the product or process, there is a good chance they would turn to thinning out the materials, squeezing the supplier for alternate lower-cost materials, do their best to eliminate waste in the manufacturing process, use cheaper fasteners, and so on.

Garage Cabinets unpackedThis is where the wish for the alternate timeline comes in.  What if at some point in the past they had designed a cabinet that consumers wanted but didn’t need to ship in separate boxes or be assembled by consumers?  What if they were able to design something that could be sold as a package and only took one SKU in the warehouse, and only one pallet space on the truck?  Surely this is a more desirable reality than the conventional one.

It seems to me that a designer or design team somewhere along the way asked the question of whether keeping the faces of the cabinets flush with each other was a true consumer need.  And if not, what if we reduced the depth on the smaller cabinets so they could all fit inside the two larger cabinets?  And put it all on a single pallet?  The result in this case was a very happy consumer and impressed lean thinker.  I can only assume it also resulted in a happy company and a profitable product.

So how would a company ensure that they didn’t just get “lucky” with one great design idea?  How can they constantly work towards the best product design possible that creates the most value for the company and the consumers?  The answer lies in the fundamentals of lean product development, from set-based concurrent engineering to evaluating risks to 3P and beyond.

Garage Cabinets

How do you begin this transformation?  Decide that’s the direction you need to go, get educated, get a capable teacher, and try!  Read a book: A Ron Mascitelli or an Allen Ward book are excellent and complementary to each other.  Based on my experience, it’s likely to be a long transformation, so that makes today a better day to start than tomorrow.

“Respect For People” Shines Through In Sandy’s Aftermath

My friend Dave shared a wonderful video with me today that I felt really exemplified Toyota’s concept of “respect for metro logopeople”, especially in connection with doing something good for the community.  The video shows how employees of Toyota’s TSSC team went to work with Food Bank of New York and Metro World Child, creating an initiative called Meals per Hour.  Over an 8-week period, they applied several fundamental concepts of lean in order to get more food to more families faster.  They worked on identifying and eliminating waste, and creating continuous flow in both the packing and distribution processes.

What I loved most about this story was that there was no discussion of cost.  No questions about “what kind of return might I get on this investment of time” or “does this save us any money”.  All I heard was that they wanted to try to improve in order to make the job of the volunteers easier, to ensure more families were fed, and to improve the speed at which they provided service to the families.  In the end it states they were able to feed 400 additional families in half the time it used to take.

1 view 1 mealI checked on Toyota’s news release area and found that in addition to improving the process, for every view of the video on YouTube they would donate one meal to the families, up to 250,000.  The response was so high that they increased their donation limit an additional 1,000,000 meals – and it looks like as of today they have already surpassed the million views mark.

I noticed another video about Toyota and the TSSC (Toyota Production System Support Center) partnering with the Tree of Life Clinic in Tupelo MS to apply lean concepts to improve conditions for patients and volunteers.  tree of life clinicThe clinic provides free healthcare to those with no insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid.  Top problems identified were long waits for patients and long workdays for the volunteers.  Patients might have arrived as early as 6:40 in the morning for a clinic that opens at 4:30 pm, to ensure they are seen that day.  And volunteers were staying as late as 10:00 at night in order to get as many patients through as possible and to complete all the paperwork.

By applying several tools and lean concepts such as 5S, process flow mapping, standard work, and eliminating waiting waste between doctor/patient interactions, they were able to improve in those top problem areas.  The results showed an average decrease of 24 minutes per patient, increasing the number of patients seen in a day from 80 to 90, while reducing the volunteer’s workday by around an hour each day.

Tree of Life results

On the Meals per Hour website, there are several more small videos and blog entries by authors brought in to document and add awareness to the issues and impacts on community members.  I only clicked on one entry so far where Vera Sweeney discusses what she took away from TPS principles – “Change your Thinking and Change Your Life”.  She relates a story about a Toyota employee attempting to improve a restaurant’s order accuracy and how she applied a TPS concept or two at home with her family to improve their morning routine.

I think all these stories illustrate and confirm how much waste exists out there in areas where lean thinking is not being applied yet.  There are a lot of gains to be made to improve the quality of life for people and communities – both the workers and the customers, no matter what the business or venue.  And when you consider how long it takes (in years and decades) to build capability in people to see and eliminate waste themselves on an everyday basis… isn’t it time we got started on that journey?

long journey

My Local McDonald’s Thinks Customer

Like any large, medium, or small, and residential, commercial or industrial area in this country, we have a McDonald’s near our house.  I won’t say we mcdonald'sgo often, but every once in a while we pick something up from the golden arches.  (self-confession:  I’m addicted to Sausage McGriddles, but I haven’t fallen off the wagon in over a year!)  As they continue to offer more and more healthy options, including things like yogurts, oatmeal, and apple slices in the Happy Meals, they move a little higher up on the frequency list.  Plus our dogs usually request a cheeseburger or two.

My daughter is getting to the age where she appreciates the toys she gets from Happy Meals, and will tell you if she likes them or not.  The past two times we have gone through the drive through and gotten her one, we got a toy that wasn’t advertised, and seemed like it was from a previous promotional toy run from months ago.  Our initial guess was that they had a lot of inventory of the older toys and wanted to get through them before handing out the new toys.  Although far from the most frustrating thing we’ve ever experienced in our lives, two times in a row made us want to let McDonald’s know how we felt about our experience.

We found their comment system online and emailed them, a very nice note letting them know of what happened, and that we also liked the new Fish McBites and were happy they were trying new menu items.  The very next morning, my wife got a call from the regional manager in charge of all the stores for our area.  He said he understood where we were coming from because he had a young child himself, apologized, and then said he wanted to drop by our house that morning to bring a toy to make up for it.

And so he did.  He brought the entire display board for the latest promotion, including all the ballerinas and all the hex bugs.  A completely unnecessary gesture, but we McDonald's toyswere very impressed with that level of response.  In addition, he chatted with my wife and said that the location in question was actually one of their better performing restaurants, and they typically ran through the latest promotional toys quickly, so they sometimes have to supply them with whatever inventory they could find so they have something to give out!

My first response was, wow, what an impressive focus on your customers!  There was no discussion of, well, what would you like in compensation, no $1 coupon coming in the mail, no free happy meal.  There was simply a quick effort to make a positive impression on one of your billions of customers.

I think a key learning is how important a quick feedback loop on a comment system or a kaizen card system can be in the eyes of those giving the input.  I suppose we expected our comments to go into a database, perhaps be looked at, maybe categorized and if it was one of the highest frequency items, maybe they would look into it someday, but we probably wouldn’t hear back from them.  Our comments would essentially be heading into a black hole as far as we were concerned.

Instead we got response, correction beyond our expectations, and additional information about the situation within 24 hours.  Because of this, we’ll be more likely to use their comment system again.  Not because we expect a rack of toys every time we send an email, but because we now know our customer input is reviewed and valued.  In fact, if you removed the toys and personal touch from the equation, I think we would have been happy even with an explanation of the toy supply chain situation at that location.  We also recognized that we are much more likely to get a response if we include details of the situation, our opinions, and a conversational tone rather than the “you guys stink!” mentality.

Because of this we will now have a very positive experience to share with our friends and family vs. a negative one, something that will stick in our minds for years to come.  How many of your comment, kaizen, or complaint systems are set up with a primary goal of delivering positive experiences to your customers or the submitters to the system – whether internal or external?