What Sales Can Learn From Lean Manufacturing — Part 3


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Ir you haven’t had a chance to read the first two articles in this series, take a moment to skim them, What Sales Can Learn From Lean Manufacturing and What Sales Can Learn From Lean Manufacturing–Part 2.  This post follows on those.

If you have been following, I’ve been using the Toyota Production System (TPS) as the foundation for this discussion.  It is the foundation form much of our thinking on lean manufacturing.   In the last post, I got through the first 4 of the 14 principles in TPS.  I’ll continue with Principle 5.

Principle 5:  Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, get quality right the first time.  This is one of the most famous aspects of TPS.  The goal of TPS was to build both highly efficient and highly responsive manufacturing processes, eliminating waste and defects.  Under TPS, every person working on the manufacturing line had the power to stop the line if there was a problem.  The reasoning is very powerful, “if we don’t fix problems in the line, they will keep recurring, our defects and waste will go up, our quality declines.”   Stopping the line was an important concept in TPS.  It always sought to eliminate problems, producing the best possible output.   (In TPS, when a person stopped a line, their colleagues and managers would cluster around the station helping the person determine and fix the problem–a very collaborative process where everyone learned.)

Too often, we don’t do this–whether it’s in our own personal workflow, or in how our organizations work.  Take, for example, executing sales calls–whatever they might be.  Whether they are inbound/outbound calls to SDRs, calls made by sales people, face to face meetings.  If we aren’t producing the outcomes we expect from these calls, clearly something is wrong.  It may be in our preparation, it may be we are calling on the wrong people, it may be we aren’t creating the right value in those calls or engaging customers ineffectively.  It makes no sense continuing to do this, hoping things will change.   (Einstein was actually a lean manufacturing guru.  He said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome.)

Stopping to fix problems is critical if we want to drive our effectiveness and efficiency.  Individually, we need to pause to examine what we do–are we producing the right results from our sales calls, are we developing nd executing the best deal strategies, are we leveraging out time most effectively.  We need to constantly refine and improve everything we do.

Organizationally, we need to look at the same things–examining our workflows and processes, are they producing the right results.  Are they creating problems in the “line?”  For example, marketing meeting its lead volumes is not useful, if they aren’t enabling sales people to produce the results we need.  Complexity is a huge issue in virtually every organization (for example, we are measuring time available for selling at 9-22% in large organizations).  It’s driven both by the complexity and problems in our processes/workflows.  We need to constantly be identifying these problems and eliminating them, if we want to produce the right overall results.

We can also learn a lot about the problem solving processes that manufacturing folks use.  Remember I said, when a person stopped the line, all the co workers and managers clustered around that station helping solve the problem.  They didn’t leave the person alone, waiting, they didn’t point fingers.  Their job was to get the line running as quickly as possible, with the problem fixed.  We should be doing the same thing as we look at sales and marketing.

Principle 6:  Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.  I’ve covered some of this in the discussion of Principles 2 and 4.  I’ll try to minimize repeating myself.  We know we can’t begin to identify and solve problems until we have defined our core processes and workflows.  For example, we can’t improve sales person onboarding until we understand the recruiting, hiring, onboarding process  (you might be wondering why I include recruiting and hiring–you’ll understand when I talk about Principle 11.)  Without these standardized processes, we can’t identify problems, we can’t no what works and doesn’t work.

Employee empowerment is critical.  In TPS, the thinking was the person closest to the work knew the most about what was happening and where there are potential problems.  Unless we empower everyone in the organization in figuring out how to collectively create the best workflow and best processes, we won’t solve our problems  successfully.  If you look at how lean manufacturers do this–they do engage “experts,” and managers, but the people on the front line are always the most critical, simply because they are the ones doing the work and experiencing the problems.

If we want to drive performance in the organization, if we want to accelerate our ability to change and improve, we have to be involving our people as part of that change.

Principle 7:  Use visual control so no problems are hidden.  Now you know where your SFDC dashboards come from.  Dashboards and visual controls are key to quickly identifying and solving problems.  Rather than hiding them, the thinking is we want to find them as quickly as possible to eliminate them.  Every factory line had their own dashboards looking at the critical performance metrics for the factory–they focused no only on outputs (e.g. Sales), but on leading indicators as well.  Each group on the factory had their dashboards which focused on their functions, all the way down to each worker.

One of the most fascinating things in visiting a factory using the TPS principles is every workstation had a Red/Green lights.  The idea being, if there was a problem in the line, the worker would immediately stop the line and the Red light would go on so everyone could see where the problem was and go help solve it.

Too often, we use the dashboards and metrics as ways to assign blame.  Imagine how much more effective we could be if we were anxious not to assign blame but to find problems quickly so we could eliminate them.  Each of us need to think about our metrics as do our organizations.  They are there to help us see when things are going wrong so we can fix them.

Principle 8:  Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and processes.  I can already hear it, vendors of sales and marketing automation are thinking, “What’s he going to say?”  Sales people are thinking, “I can leverage principle 8 to get rid of CRM!”  Technology and automation has always been a key part of improving manufacturing processes.  But in TPS, technology was applied very carefully.  There are test/prototype lines that were used to test new approaches before incorporating them into a production line.  It’s understandable, putting untested technology into a production line could have multi million dollar consequences.

But most importantly, the people on the lines were involved in those decisions.  The technology impacted their work and abilities to get their jobs done.  If the technology didn’t improve what they could do, the technology wasn’t implemented.  If it didn’t improve the processes, it didn’t get implemented.

We need to do the same thing as we look at sales and marketing automation.  If it isn’t helping the people on the front line, it will never produce the results it should.  If the people aren’t involved in assessing and testing it, you don’t know whether it serves them and helps them improve.  Too often, we inflict new technologies on our people.  They don’t understand why, how, what to do.  They see it as an impediment to their effectiveness.  As a result, morale declines, productivity declines, effectiveness declines.  If the sales and marketing tools you are using aren’t helping the people doing the work, then you shouldn’t implement it.

Principle 9:  Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.  I probably don’t need to spend time talking about the “understand the work” part of this principle.  Hopefully, you get it.  But the last 2 parts of the principle is where all the difference is.  Live the philosophy is critical.  You may recall the philosophies underlying the principles are intensely people centric.  This principle falls under the philosophical pillar, “Add value to the organization by developing your people.”  Throughout these principles you see concepts of servant leadership, empowerment, learning and developing.  It’s the people doing the work that can find and identify problems–improving productivity.

Leaders in TPS recognized the role of the leader was to serve their people.  That the only ways results could be achieved is if the leaders were committed to developing, coaching, teaching and empowering their people.  Without this, the organization could never produce the results expected.

Enough said.

Conclusion:  Hang in there, we only have 5 more principles to go.  I’ll finish those in the next post.  Hopefully, you are seeing much of the philosophy and principles of TPS are simply good business management.  All can be applied in some way to sales and marketing.  Some have limitations–primarily because in sales and marketing we always have the human factor–our customers, our partners, our peers.  These drive variability into the processes, these are never constant and will change from person to person, deal to deal, moment to moment.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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