Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Where Does Inspiration Hit?

My colleague Dave set up a very useful meeting last week with one of our fine vendors. This company makes small structural steel accessories for our buildings and has been working with us since 1978. A good, long-term relationship.

Dave set the meeting up so very well. Because of the clarity of the meeting, several observations jumped out at me, which you may find useful in any customer-supplier relationship focused on finding and eliminating waste.

  • Go to the workplace. We met at the vendor. While we sat in their office for a little while out of courtesy, we found the most quality time walking around their shop. We saw, smelled, touched, sensed their process and challenges. Their CNC mill is no longer just a generic tool. We saw it working.
  • Take at least one other knowledgeable person. Dave recognized that two other folks here were critical in how we specify and order these custom parts. He pulled them in on the meeting. He didn't attempt to see it just by himself. The interaction makes it far more valuable.
  • Ask basic questions. Al, one of our engineers, asked basic dimensional questions about the parts. Amazingly, that basic discussion revealed some very simple improvements to make our products more easily machinable for our vendor and more mistake-proof for us. Better value at lower cost. We found this because Al didn't mind asking basic questions.
  • Listen carefully. It's no use asking questions if we don't listen. By having four sets of ears there, we "heard" better. Especially in a business relationship that is 24 years old, we can think there is nothing new to hear. Not so.
  • Expect some surprises. Even though I've done it many, many times, I never cease to be amazed at how surprisingly positive it always is to go to a supplier's physical place of business (makes no difference whether it is an internal or external supplier) and listen. And when the surprise comes, when we say "ahaaa", when we all sit back in our chairs and say "yeah, we could do that"; well, it's a rush and a great part of doing business.
I hope you go to some supplier in the next two days. Even if just an internal supplier. Go. Watch. Listen. Ask. Expect a surprise that can improve something. Dave set it up for us, and we were not disappointed.

I hope this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

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