Managing customer demand: leverage your enterprise excellence tools

By Richard Knust   

Industry MRO Operations Manufacturing Lean manufacturing

Make it easier and less stressful for your customer to do business with you.

The five steps to lean implementation. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

The five steps to lean implementation. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

Are successful implementations of enterprise excellence tools helping you manage customer demand or simply react to it more effectively? Chances are it’s the latter. You’ve used the tools to identify and eliminate waste and reduce variability to open up capacity, thus reacting to customer demand with greater agility.

Even using the heijunkia (level loading) tool may be an inadvertent method of reacting to customer demand once it reaches your operation and levels (somewhat) internal operations. But there’s a great opportunity to proactively use your enterprise excellence tools as an added sales lever that makes it easier and less stressful for your customer to do business with you.

Place your customers on kanban. This will stabilize a significant portion of your production schedule and get it closer to actual demand at the customer’s site. The bulk of those pesky rush order requests seem to come from the same customer, sales person and/or customer service rep, but don’t blame them. Manage the orders so they stabilize. In most cases the disturbances are a result of a performance or service level that isn’t supportable on a regular basis. It’s also conceivable the customer’s priority is not high on the agenda until there’s a stock-out.

To start the journey, do a Pareto chart of your rush order requests during the past 90 to 120 days, who generated them and for what products. Dig into your bill of lading files and plot actual shipments on a calendar by date and quantity shipped. Any trends?


Now you can begin some modelling exercises.
• Calculate demonstrated daily consumption by customer.
• Using your internal capacity and staffing modeller, what’s the most desirable quantity to produce? Think cellular and one-piece flow, taking into consideration your takt time.
• Consider how to optimize your logistics route by batch size or the most cost effective routing to customers and suppliers.

Next, visit the customer with your data and review it to establish quantities and triggers. Triggers are an art. They range from the use of returnable containers to webcams focused on storage locations or customer kanban boards. Provide standard visual work instructions on how to process triggers to your facility, and build in some time phasing of the demand based on your modelling.

We often hear about listening to the voice of the customer, but there’s also great value in speaking to the customer with a proactive solution beyond traditional products and services. Remember, sales sells and operations services customer needs. Employing customer kanban will allow you to provide service in a more predictable and repeatable manner.

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.


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