Twelve Reasons to Tell Customers About Your Lean Manufacturing Efforts

Here is a follow up to reason #3 from of the post Here are 4.5 Signs that Your Lean May be L.A.M.E. from earlier this week. I could think of 12 reasons to tell customers about your Lean manufacturing efforts.
1. Customer behavior is the problem you need to solve next. Once your Lean effort has progressed to a point, next you will need to involve customers and suppliers. You might even say it is the problem you need to solve first but why don’t we start with the mote in our own eyes. Saying “it’s the customer’s fault” isn’t really helpful, since presumably your business exists because you are able to satisfy a unique request that your customers have, even if their request is a difficult one. If this was easy, anyone could do it.

2. Your customer may have a more mature Lean effort than you.
What a great reason. Ask for their help. Learn from your customers. Tour their best facilities. Have peer-level exchanges to raise the awareness and knowledge level of your people. Build a stronger relationship with your customers.

3. You may have a more mature Lean effort than your customer.
The same as #2 above, but in reverse. I have heard that Boeing got into working with Japanese consultants in their Lean efforts in large part due to the urgings of United Technologies, Pratt & Whitney, who make the engines for aircraft. The airlines are now also getting into Lean, and this no doubt has something to do with Boeing or Airbus sharing the benefits of Lean with their customers. Lean alumni from both Boeing and UTC have been known to head up Lean efforts at the airlines.
4. Invite customers to join your kaizen workshops. This is a great way to find the waste of processing, one of the hardest wastes to find but easiest to get rid of once found. Many times the root cause is “just because” and the customer will be the first one to tell you that a process adds no value to them, or is over-processed.
5. Build in your reputation for built in quality. Let your customers talk about how they know your products are good because of the way you design and produce them, not because of warranties you tack on at the end to fix the ones that got through.
6. Make your customers think twice about taking their business elsewhere.
Tell your customers that compared to competitors you have a head start in meeting their goals. Whether it’s to a local competitor or offshore, if you have a health Lean culture in place or under development, you have momentum in the areas of cost reduction, quality improvement and delivery performance. A lower priced supplier may in fact cost more in terms of total landed cost, and you can demonstrate this through your flexibility and responsiveness.
7. Hold yourselves accountable. There’s nothing like telling your customer “You’ll see a kanban system functioning between your warehouse and this production line in the next 60 days” to keep you honest and on track. Your customer won’t accept excuses that your managers will.
8. Get Lean into the heads of the salesmen and deal makers. Talking with your customers about your Lean efforts will require the people who deal most directly with customers every day to keep a clear idea of what Lean is all about in their minds at all times.
9. Getting your customers to think Lean creates a “pull” or an expectation from them to make you continuously improve and keep up your Lean efforts. “Our customers require that we do this” is no longer lip service.
10. Borrow expert knowledge from your customers. During your kaizen activities or at any point in your Lean implementation when you are using a cross functional team, invite one of your customers to participate, preferably someone who fills a skill or experience gap you have. In exchange for hands-on experience in Lean implementation they receive, they will give you their fresh ideas and expertise on how to solve technical problems you may have. Who knows, maybe they already fixed that problem at another supplier.
11. Finally get that doggone design change approved. Those engineering specs you were sure “they’re never gonna change” can become Lean roadkill when it’s either a customer requirement to change it, or no longer a customer requirement to maintain it. If it’s not Lean, and it deserves changing, there’s nothing like the voice of the customer to provide authority.

12. Put the money on the table and see what happens.
One of the reasons not to tell your customers about your Lean efforts may be that your customers will want you to rebid their parts at the new, lower, “Lean” price and effectively take away your savings. This is common practice by corporate purchasing departments who are measured on price as opposed to cost. Don’t do this haphazardly, but thinking long-term it may be better to know just how your customers will react to your Lean efforts and the savings that result. If they see you as a strong long-term partner that will continually improve quality and capability and be financially secure, they will not be so eager to grab the money on the table. If not, or if they themselves are not financially secure, they may ask for immediate savings. In either of the latter cases, you would be well-advised to have “find new customers” as part of your overall Lean Enterprise strategy.
These are all from the perspective of a supplier to an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and not from an OEM to an end user. I don’t know how well these would apply to a software company, a hospital or a restaurant. Ideas welcome.