Lean SolutionsAuthors James Womack and Daniel Jones have been well-read proponents of the theories and practices of “lean manufacturing” and “lean operations.” In their most recent book, Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Value and Wealth Together, they carry their analysis of the concept further suggest- ing “good business starts with the customer.” While that’s a difficult concept to argue against, each time they provide examples of what they mean, they inevitably come back to the person (employee) who talks to the customer.

They identify a list of things customers want a business to do for them:

  • Solve problems completely
  • Don’t waste my time
  • Provide exactly what I want
  • Deliver value where I want it
  • Supply value when I want it
  • Cut the number of decisions I must make to solve my problems.

Each of those things, ultimately, depends on a very good match between the person representing the business and the job he or she is trying to accomplish. For example, they suggest so-called

“help desks” are a place where few or none of the items on the customer’s wish list commonly occur. (Help desks seldom solve problems completely.

They inevitably waste huge amounts of time, as an under-qualified employee runs through a mandated, computer- generated hierarchy of possible solutions eventually turning the customer over to a [presumably] more qualified employee who applies greater knowledge to the problem ad infinitum…) The solution, according to the authors: “…put knowledge- able people on help desks to solve problems faster and better.”

We would add: be sure the knowledgeable person communicates well at the level of the customer, is persistent, has a high degree of tact, and has a genuine interest in helping people. In other words…Job Fit. Apply the concept to health care. Instead of having patients talk to a receptionist to schedule an appointment, put them in touch with a knowledgeable professional who can do a more appropriate job of scheduling, and who can cut out unnecessary preliminary appointments and decrease the hated waiting time before treatment.

We would add that this professional should have good communication skills, high objective judgment, interest in people service, moderate assertiveness… Job Fit.

While the authors suggest we may need a whole new set of industries to, essentially, outsource business logistics, by building lean organizations to deliver these services, we would argue against the idea. It’s a red herring. Existing organizations could provide what we would call “lean customer service,” if they are conscientious in matching service providers with the jobs they perform.

In the process, more efficient and valuable service could be provided by fewer people who do a better job. We could even pay service providers more, if they were more effective and the job required fewer employees! Every level of service delivery presents this opportunity, as well as a wide range of living examples of excellent performance models who Fit the Job!