It is desirable but not necessary to have already read Lean Thinking before reading this volume. In both, the focus is on "five simple principles" which can guide and inform any organization's efforts to achieve "process brilliance" in its product development, supplier management, customer support, and production processes. The principles are:
1. Provide the value actually desired by customers.
2. Identify the value stream for each product or service.
3. Get and keep each step of the value stream in proper alignment.
4. Enable the customer to "pull" rather than "push" maximum value from what you offer.
5. Once the value, value stream, flow, and pull are established, "start over from the beginning in an endless search for perfection, the happy situation of perfect value provided with zero waste."
In this context, I am reminded of Albert Einstein's emphasis on making everything as simple as possible...but no simpler. Lean initiatives should eliminate "fat" but not "muscle." Decision-makers in many organizations confuse rightsizing with downsizing.
In Lean Solutions, Womack and Jones identify what they characterize as "the emerging challenges of consumption" despite the availability of better, cheaper products." And this seems very strange when we stop to consider that satisfying consumption - not just making brilliant products - is the whole point of lean production." In response to challenges such as complicated purchase decisions because "consumers are often drowning in a sea of choices," they explain how to combine truly lean provision with truly lean consumption. In process, Womack and Jones examine dozens of real-world examples of how various organizations have done so. When emerges is a new definition of value for today's consumer who insists that problems are solved completely, conveniently and without any waste of time. Moreover, today's consumer expects to receive exactly what she or he or wants, with value delivered where and when specified, with a substantial reduction of decisions which must be made to solve the given problem or fill the given need.
"Our objective is simple: We aim to teach managers to see all the steps a consumer must perform to research, obtain, install, integrate, maintain, repair, upgrade, and recycle the goods and services needed to solve their problem. We then challenge each step, asking why it is necessary at all and why it often can't be performed properly. Once worthless steps are eliminated, we can talk about flow and pull, heading toward perfection." Womack and Jones insist - and I wholly agree - that lean thinking must not only guide and inform continuous efforts to perfect production of a given product or service but to perfect, also, the provision and consumption of it. To the best of my knowledge, their book is the first to provide the core concepts, strategies, and tactics to accomplish that.
True, Womack and Jones suggest and explain a number of "lean solutions" to all manner of problems but it remains for those who read their book to apply the principles of lean thinking to their own specific circumstances. Obviously, bold action is required and there are perils to take into full account. Any decisions made are, at best, subject to constant refinement and, when necessary, revision and perhaps even replacement as new circumstances develop. Effectively combining and then coordinating consumption and provision streams is indeed a journey rather than a destination.
The authors of "Lean Thinking" move their attention from lean production to "lean provision", particularly focussing on retail and services. The book makes a number of excellent arguments in a beautifully clear and readable style. The provision of goods and services to consumers is definitely the next target in the lean revolution and the authors note some particular example organisations that are achieving lean in the service sector. Tesco comes in for frequent praise.
The book does have a couple of weaknesses. Firstly, the books lacks detail on the metholodogy for achieving lean provision. Only a few vague pages are presented.
Secondly, the book would, in my view, really benefit from the input of retail experts and academics to comment on and improve the ideas that are floated by the authors. As it is, I am left with the feeling that some of these ideas are pie in the sky which would never work in the real economy.
Clearly the aim of this book is to stimulate thought and discussion on the application of lean principles to consumer service. It presents a compulsive argument for change, though no clearly worked through solutions. It moves the lean management focus onto the provision of goods and services to the consumer - where it is much needed - and, as such, is required reading for anyone involved in retail and customer service.