Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Value and Wealth Together

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9780743277785: Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Value and Wealth Together

In this landmark new book, James Womack and Daniel Jones deconstruct this broken producer-consumer model and show businesses how to repair it.

A massive disconnect exists between consumers and providers today. Consumers have a greater selection of higher quality goods to choose from and can obtain these items from a growing number of sources. Computers, cars, and even big-box retail sites promise to solve our every need. So why aren't consumers any happier?

Because everything surrounding the process of obtaining and using all these products causes us frustration and disappointment. Why is it that, when our computers or our cell phones fail to satisfy our needs, virtually every interaction with help lines, support centers, or any organization providing service is marked with wasted time and extra hassle? And who among us hasn't spent countless hours in the waiting room at the doctor's office, or driven away from the mechanic only to have the "fix engine" light go on?

In their bestselling business classic Lean Thinking, James Womack and Daniel Jones introduced the world to the principles of lean production -- principles for eliminating waste during production. Now, in Lean Solutions, the authors establish the groundbreaking principles of lean consumption, showing companies how to eliminate inefficiency during consumption.

The problem is neither that companies don't care nor that the people trying to fix our broken products are inept. Rather, it's that few companies today see consumption as a process -- a series of linked goods and services, all of which must occur seamlessly for the consumer to be satisfied. Buying a home computer, for example, involves researching, purchasing, integrating, maintaining, upgrading, and, ultimately, replacing it.

Across all industries, companies that apply the principles of lean consumption will learn how to provide the full value consumers desire from products without wasting time or effort -- theirs or the consumers' -- and as a result these companies will be more profitable and competitive.

Lean Solutions is full of surprising success stories: Fujitsu, a leading service company for technology, has transformed the way call centers solve problems -- learning how to eliminate the underlying cause of current problems rather than fixing them again and again. An extremely successful car dealership has adopted lean principles to streamline its business, making for dramatically reduced wait time, fewer return trips, and greater satisfaction for customers -- and a far more lucrative enterprise.

Lean Solutions will inspire managers to take the first steps toward perfecting their company's process of giving consumers what they really want.

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Review:

American and European feelings towards Japanese business practices have varied dramatically through the last few decades. In the late 1970s and 1980s, a wave of fear swept through many Western leaders as they contemplated Japan's stunningly rapid rise from the ashes of World War II. Then more recently, as the 1990s and early 2000s saw stagflation gripping the Japanese economy, and knowledge-based innovation in technology and financial services bringing unprecedented prosperity to many Western countries, a feeling of vindication (and sometimes smugness) returned to those same corporate chieftains. Most recently, perhaps, the pendulum of conventional wisdom has begun to swing back to a middle position, in between the extremes of adulation and disdain: respect for the positive contributions of Japanese business culture, without blind acceptance. It's with this spirit that the authors of Lean Solutions offer their insightful observations about process design and service delivery in modern companies.

James Womack and Daniel Jones are well-recognized contributors to the lean-business movement. Lean Solutions is the consultants' fifth book together, following earlier works like Lean Thinking and The Machine That Changed the World, and springs as before from their keen interest in Japanese business methods and philosophy. What compels them to write yet another book, though, given the well-established literature on lean business?

The authors offer an intriguing description of their mission at the beginning of this latest book. Principles of lean design have in fact been adopted by many Western businesses, they acknowledge, and manufacturing quality has steadily risen as a result. Yet customers remain often dissatisfied with their experiences. The cause? To Womack and Jones, the answer rests in a myopic application of lean business principles: companies have successfully improved their manufacturing and product-development environments, but they have not had a large enough view of the overall customer relationship, and of the need for leanness in all aspects of companies' interactions with customers.

Put another way: in Lean Solutions, readers find a new and much broader conceptualization of how lean-business methods--which, to be fair to Womack and Jones, have evolved so that they can claim a global heritage as much as a Far Eastern one--might apply across entire customer experiences, rather than just manufacturing processes. The structure of Lean Solutions centers on 6 requests that the authors believe customers implicitly demand from their vendors: "Solve my problem completely; don't waste my time; provide exactly what I want; deliver value where I want it; supply value when I want it; and reduce the number of decisions I must make to solve my problems."

With a compelling mix of case studies, and illuminating thought experiments in industries ranging as widely as shoe manufacturing, health care delivery, auto repair, and grocery shopping, Womack and Jones walk readers through careful explanations of how lean thinking might be expanded beyond the factory floor to broader business problems. Lean Solutions isn't for all readers. It rests on an appreciation of the large cumulative effects that many small processes can have on business, and it requires patience from those who want to learn the secrets of lean business. --Peter Han

About the Author:

James P. Womack is the president and founder of the Lean Enterprise Institute (www.lean.org), a nonprofit education and research organization based in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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