Lean Solutions

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 09-06-08

Author: James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones

Publication Date: 2005

Book Description: What’s the key message?

Lean Solutions is about the waste seen through the eyes of the consumer. By viewing the problems and complaints of consumers, you can find new ways to capture value. Through the eyes of the consumer, the authors present this framework, with a chapter devoted to each:

  • Solve my problem completely. Whether my problem is trying to get from point A to point B, or to communicate with a colleague, the solution you provide must solve that problem for me and solve it completely.
  • Don’t waste my time. If it takes the consumer extra effort and time to receive value from you, that’s waste. Imagine how much happier the customer is if they don’t have to wait. Waiting on hold is the obvious example, but there are many other times where the consumer’s time is absorbed.
  • Provide exactly what I want. Don’t get me something close, or a good replacement, but make sure what I was really looking can be found. This is largely a supply or replenishment solution coupled with looking at the means of distribution. Given the massive number of shoes options including color and size, it provides a nice example for the book but could have also been furniture or consumer electronics.
  • Deliver value where I want it. The central premise is that there is not one ideal location for all consumers for all products under all circumstances. For example, a single grocery item to complete the ingredients for dinner might require a different ‘where’ solution than a planned bulk item purchase. The authors promote the idea of looking at delivery solutions as a portfolio approach, allowing consumers to get what they need from you through a variety of means.
  • Supply value when I want it. Of course, the standard answer of when customers want something is “yesterday.” But the authors refute that, suggesting that many purchases are planned and providers give no incentive to consumers to behave consistent with planned purchases. For example, if the consumer knows they need a new car in 6 months, the automobile company can make it when it fits the schedule and balances out the spontaneous purchases to deliver that product within the consumer’s interests and improving the efficiency of the value stream at the same time.
  • Reduce the number of decisions I must make to solve my problems. Despite this being the principle promoted early in the book, when it comes to the chapters they take it much further. This ultimately becomes the company packaging all of the elements needed by the consumer to solve their problem in one solution or a suite of solutions. The end game, as presented in this books, is not selling products or services but selling solutions, where the provider can optimize all the aspects of providing that solution and taking the customer out of having to make decisions, combine partial solutions and optimize the whole.

These principles are the focus of this book. There is also quite a bit of time spent on understanding the connection between the behaviors and activities at the consumer level, and waste in the value stream. This is focused on heavily at the final transaction stage, where the provider and the consumer come together for the service or the product. The tool demonstrated is called a Consumption Map, although it is just an activity map with the consumer on it, something lean practitioners have done for many years, but with a little more focus in this case around the consumer’s time.

How does it contribute ot the lean knowledge base?

While none of the concepts in this book are really new, they are configured and presented in a useful framework that allows individuals to rethink how they deliver value and solutions to consumers. It is particularly useful to lean thinkers as it leverages the language and concepts that lean thinkers are already comfortable with to focus on the consumers’ point of view. While many lean companies will stop at the “delivery” step of their value stream, the authors challenge providers to rethink in some cases simply the means and timing of delivery, and in other cases rethink the entire solution being provided. For lean thinkers on the shop floor, this may just lead to increased frustration because they won’t be in a position to apply much of this. Overall, this book is an important read for a certain set of people, and for those not in a position to apply it, the title could be “How to Be a Frustrated Consumer.”

What are the highlights? What works?

The most important thing that this book does is remind everyone that the #1 objective of lean is to provide value for the customer. Waste elimination is not the goal, it is just removing what doesn’t add value. Most lean books focus on the idea that the amount of value provided is fixed, and your job in lean transformation is to work around it. However, most lean books rarely challenge you to reconsider the value part of that equation. Building on this theme, Lean Solutions then presents a framework for how to analyze and challenge the value you provide. Consistent with the books title, it forces you to look at the consumer in terms of what problem they have first, and then develop the solution around that, not develop the solution and then look for the problem that it solves.

What are the weaknesses? What’s missing?

Lean Solutions constantly presents these concepts from the viewpoint of consumer-oriented companies. While it acknowledges the impact on upstream suppliers in the value stream, it is written for companies that control or could control that final link. However, many of these concepts, perhaps on a less grand scale, could apply equally to companies that serve other companies. Business services, parts suppliers, equipment suppliers – if they were to apply this lens, they could capture more value for their customers. But the book doesn’t help them in the same way it helps consumer-facing customers Lean Solutions also seems to go too far in the final chapter. It proposes optimization of supply and demand on a grand scale. In fact, in some cases, the solutions proposed exist. A person can go to one company and get all of their phone, cell phone, long-distance, internal, television and other communication needs in one package from one company. But it doesn’t deliver the results promised in this chapter – people still have the same waste sorting for their perfect solutions.

How should I read this to get the most out of it?

Read this book with a specific product, company or service in mind. Challenge yourself to apply each concept to the company or product in question as you read. This will greatly deepen the learning versus only hearing the examples as presented by the authors. The concepts on their own are not that profound, but if applied systematically, they can be powerful. Also, try to read at least one strategy or market book along with this book. This will help connect the contents of this book to a larger perspective on the strategy of your company to “go to market.”  Lastly, because in many cases this might challenge you to rethink your company, it would help to read as part of a group that can make the decision as a team.