How to achieve your customer intimacy

By Richard Kunst   


Bring them into your value stream.

A key element of lean is balancing production with customer demand. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

A key element of lean is balancing production with customer demand. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

A big part of adopting and implementing lean principles is identifying waste and eliminating it to reduce costs and maintain competitiveness. But there’s another side to lean: balancing capacity and capability to match customer demand.

Do we really do a good job of integrating customers into our value stream? Most manufacturers are afraid to speak of anything beyond introducing new products, features and attributes of existing products since customers will be looking to get more while paying less. So they guess about potential customer demand and build an infrastructure to deal with sudden surges and surprises.

A key element of the lean enterprise is level loading, or Hiejunka. This requires intimate customer involvement, so how do we get there?

First categorize your customers and the products they purchase into runners, repeaters and strangers. Conduct an extended enterprise value stream map, digging deep into your customer’s business to determine how demand is generated and accumulated before an order is triggered. This may reveal some exciting opportunities since your customer’s ordering methodology may not be as sophisticated as you imagined.


Next, work with your customer to establish the products it orders on a kanban system. Web cams view inventory stock locations, which eliminates the need for your customer to place orders. Supporting the customer with kanban will get you closer to the actual demand without feeling the effects of an ERP filter.

Link your customer’s kanban system with timed delivery milk runs. Once your customer knows when your shipment will be arriving, orders and support systems will be put in place to maximize resources. Based on your analysis, optimize the cube and size of your trucks, and the length of the run. When an outbound route is established, use the backhaul route to pick up supplies or return reusable packaging.

Create a visual environment

As you walk the aisles in your plant, look for evidence of:
No wandering/no searching. Everything you need to do a proper job is near at hand and where you left it, in its proper, designated place.
No waiting/no delays. Materials, parts, tools, paperwork arrive on time. Permission to engage in the work is visibly in place.
No wondering/no secrets. Procedures are standardized and visually displayed. All the information you need to do quality work is at your fingertips – accurate, complete and visible.
No obstacles/no detours. It’s a straight shot to where you need to go. No detours around equipment, racks, people or material.
No extras. The area contains just what’s needed, nothing extra, nothing just-in-case.
No injuries. Safety procedures are built into the process of work.
No waste/no red ink. The workplace is clean, well ordered, self-explaining, and self-regulating. Waste is identified before it accumulates. Material and information flows through the workplace at an accelerated pace.

Your operation will optimize as you anticipate predictable demand. Once runners are operating smoothly on a kanban-induced timed delivery route, it’s fairly easy to integrate repeaters and ultimately strangers into your production planning strategy.

You know how to use these simple tools internally, so leverage them to make customers even more committed to your success.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Kunst Solutions Corp., which helps companies become more agile, develop evolutionary management and implement lean solutions.

This article appears in the March 2016 issue of PLANT.


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