Retail and service companies are implementing lean management principles not only to create more value for customers at less cost — just like manufacturers that adopted the principles — but for reasons unique to their workforces and demand patterns, according to Joshua Howell, a senior coach at the nonprofit Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI).
Unlike many manufacturers, retail and service companies must manage thousands of people, scattered among thousands of locations, and contend with unpredictable demand, Howell said in a recent podcast interview with Gemba Academy.
“A manufacturing plant can know at the start of daily production what has to be made and in what quantities,” Howell said. “In retail settings, that’s not known. It’s a profound challenge.”
Customer Service Matters
When helping retailers and service operations implement lean principles, Howell is finding that managers are recognizing “that work really matters. It’s important to pay attention to the work frontline people do and simplify it,” he said. “There’s a lot of activity within the way work is designed that does not allow people to give good customer service.”
For instance, frontline service workers often must take orders, process them, and take payment while engaging customers and answering questions.
“But we’ve learned that it is still possible to simplify and standardize work to make it more repeatable and rhythmic so frontline workers can pay more attention to customer service,” Howell said.
About Josh Howell
As senior coach in LEI’s Co-Learning Partners program, Howell supports partnerships, develops onsite and public workshops, and conducts research into the implementation of lean business systems. Previously, he spent nine years at Starbucks Coffee Company, where he was a primary architect and implementer of a lean operating system for retail stores. He also led and developed a team of coaches to sustain the lean transformation globally. Howell holds a bachelor’s in finance from the University of Notre Dame.
About the Lean Enterprise Institute
Lean Enterprise Institute Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Cambridge, MA, makes things better through lean research, education, publishing, and conferences. Founded in 1997 by management expert James P. Womack, PhD, LEI supports other lean initiatives such as the Lean Global Network, the Lean Education Academic Network, and the Healthcare Value Network. Visit LEI at https://www.lean.org for more information.