Who are the customers?

In my view, the central principle of lean production is that the customer is the focus of everything you do. As you go through the kaizen continuous-improvement process, you subject everything you do to the question: “How does this increase value for the customer?” If something you are doing does nothing to increase value for the customer, or worse, decreases value for the customer, you should try to get rid of it. An ideal lean process would include nothing besides actions that increase value for the customer.

In the case of car companies and other factories, the customer is obvious: The person buying the product that comes from the factory. The reason for maximizing customer value is also obvious: When they have a choice, people don’t pay for anything they don’t value. If you put things into your process that don’t increase value for the customer, you either have to increase prices to pay for them (making a competitor’s less-expensive and equally-valuable product more attractive), or you have to pay for them yourself (making your business less profitable). These are both bad.

In everyday life, customers are less obvious partly because they don’t usually pay you. In my case, my customers are ultimately myself, my spouse, and my children. None of them pay me for my services, but that doesn’t mean that spending my time and energy on actions that don’t have value for them is any less of a problem. I want all of these people to have lives that are as full as possible of things they value because I care about them. That’s the reason I’m trying to make a leaner everyday life: To maximize the value of everything we do.

So lean production is trying to eliminate all of those things that don’t have value for the customer, and has a word for those things: Waste. Waste is anything that doesn’t add value for the customer. Lean production is a set of tools, techniques and tricks that eliminate waste from the process. At one level, it really is that simple.

Taiichi Ohno, the creator of the Toyota Production System (TPS) and father of lean production identified seven major muda, or kinds of waste, in any process. The next post will be the first in a series of posts describing each kind of waste and how they crop up in the processes of everyday life.


About adbenking

A journeyman sociologist living in Chicagoland.
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