On my current assignment, I asked a great many people, operators and supervisors alike, “Who is your customer?” Answers ranged widely, from “What do you mean?” to “ABC Conglomerate, Inc.,” the firm’s largest customer. And this was after I had led training sessions regarding open communication and discussions of such key concepts of responsibility and ownership at all levels in the organization.
We had focused on “ownership” as the key concept in implementing Quality at the Source throughout the shop, after teaching everyone what a good part looked like when it left their workstation. Recall my article in the December, 2012. The person or operation that the part was sent to could return it to them if it was found to be substandard. I had failed to specify that the recipient was their customer, and consequently, none picked it up.
I tried again. Your customer is the person, operation or department that receives your output, whether it is a physical part or a piece of information, I told them. Only one of you has ABC as your customer! The shipping department.
Who is your customer? Do you know? Does everyone in your company know? Why is it important, anyway?
As part of changing your culture to one of team based behavior, it is necessary that everyone think of team members as individuals who are important to their own well-being and livelihood. When every customer transaction is personal, when every customer has a name and face, it becomes much harder to pass on poor or marginal quality parts. That is simply not how one treats a teammate.
Instilling this kind of supplier-customer attitude throughout the shop is a necessary precondition to the kind of team building that a LEAN manufacturing initiative is based on. When people know that their customer expects the best and deserves the best that they can provide, they can support their customer through the really scary part of business life – change. It is really important, because LEAN done right is more than change, it is continual change for the better.