Aug 10, 2010

Saturday afternoon with Captain Karl's Lean Nation

Captain Karl
I spent part of Saturday afternoon 5S-ing old files, and decided to make it even more productive by catching up on podcasts of Karl Wadensten’s Lean Nation radio show. If you haven’t heard it, you’re missing something remarkable. Every afternoon at 4 pm Eastern time, Karl, president of VIBCO, interviews someone with an enlightening story about lean, current authors like John Toussaint, and influential thinkers like Jamie Flinchbaugh, Andy Carlino, and Don Dinero.

Karl also talks to people like Bill Hodge and Paul Bonin from UPS and Kenn Fischburg, President of Consumer's Interstate Corp (also known as Toilet Paper World) about his company’s experience with these supply partners and how they helped folks at VIBCO make lean improvements. Hodge, Bonin, and Fischburg were all knowledgeable about lean, willing to visit VIBCO and see what they could offer to streamline processes, and well aware of what the impact on VIBCO’s operations would be.

Starting with shipping, which Karl rightly recognizes at the critical link between you and your customer, the focus was on common problems and not a sales pitch for “what Brown can do for you.” VIBCO’s processes were like those of many companies, requiring rekeying of data when shipping costs were found and handoffs to UPS took place as well as lookup of specific orders -- and VIBCO ships a lot of items. In customer service, representatives had to flip through web pages to tell customers what the price differences would be if they shipped UPS ground vs. next day vs. other options. These were multiple daily transactions, all waste.

You don’t have time to keep up with new services from all your vendors, and VIBCO didn’t know everything UPS could do for them. By being on site, observing what was happening, and identifying frustrating little obstacles, Paul was able to help people solve problems. New abilities for data linking from UPS could add actual shipping status and cost to order records without rekeying, and tracking data could be made visible to customers automatically. (Don’t you love it when you order from an online vendor like Zappos and can see when your order gets on a truck, makes it to Louisville, to Toledo, and on another truck to you, all from a link in an automated order acknowledgement.) Wow, now VIBCO’s order shipping people are moving their customer’s equipment and parts to them, not typing.

In customer service, the rep can enter the order while on the phone with the customer, flip through the various options based on the shipping weight and not have to change pages once. It saves more than time. For customers on the phone, that long pause when the customer can only wait is gone. It’s a better buying experience.

Karl also talked about how UPS helped out when an urgent order just couldn’t be ready by the standard UPS pickup time. Paul happily shares his cell phone number, and he’s ready to arrange whatever he can to handle an exception. Not only will Paul help VIBCO, he offered to hook up any listener with a rep in their area who would do the same good partnering that he does.

At the other end of the value stream -- purchasing -- Kenn Fischburg’s applies the lean model to buying office and operations supplies. His website makes it easy to place a credit card order for any number of categories of common products, which will be shipped, usually within 24 hours, from one of TPW’s 26 warehouses. Kenn talked about an early “aha” moment, when a customer asked, “Do you sell candy too?” Kenn’s answer was, “If you want me to sell candy, I’ll sell candy!” That’s grown to a proverbial one-stop-shop for busy purchasing employees.

Toiletpaperworld has a jump on a lot of companies in bringing a friendly social media side to its relationship with customers. It’s capable of being funny -- see the toilet paper survey data in  -- and Kenn writes a blog that appears on the website and in Facebook. Who doesn’t need a trivia break in the office when you’re ordering the most mundane supplies in the world?

Toiletpaperworld has more lean practices internally, which they also share with customers. I wrote about those last year: Helping your customers get lean. (I think the post might have been based on something else I read, which I should have cited, but thanks, Kenn, for the link you added to the Toilet Paper Encyclopedia.)

During the rest of my 5S afternoon, I listened to more about supply chain improvement when Leslie Taito from RIMES hosted a talk with Cheryl Snead, CEO of Banneker Industries and Ron Nussel, Founder and President of ICR Group. I topped off the day by listening to Karl talk to Michael Brassard of Lean Pathways about strategy deployment.

I must confess that, as a print-biased learner, I rarely use podcasts or videos to keep up with lean, but I’m going to do more of it. I’ll be listening to Karl Wadensten’s Lean Nation, because his interviews are so engaging and intense as well as being well grounded in a solid understanding of lean principles. I’m scheduled as a guest August 16, to talk about trends I see, so listen in and send me feedback. It’s a rehearsal of sorts for my debut behind the microphone at the IQPC Process Excellence Leaders Meeting in Chicago September 13-16. Don’t let me make an idiot of myself.

1 comment:

Jessica Fischburg said...

Thanks for mentioning us!

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