The Customer Buys Your Value Stream
The way we think drives what we do. This is certainly true when it comes to striving for improvement in our businesses. Common thinking among printing companies is that they are comprised of various departments and functions such as sales, customer service, prepress, press, finishing, etc. People are hired and trained, equipment is purchased and installed, and procedures are established for the work in each area. Employees are encouraged to do their best, and if possible, to make improvements.
The point is, if you think that a printing business is mostly a collection of departments and technologies, each of which needs to become the best it can be, you probably won’t gain much benefit from your improvement efforts. Why? Because improving a function in isolation of its upstream and downstream partners leads to sub-optimization. A printing company is a complex series of processes that must work together as a system to flow value to customers.
All value produced by a printing company is the end result of its processes which, when strung together, create a value stream. Customers are only interested in the value flowing to them through your value streams. However, these processes are loaded with the seven Lean wastes: transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-production, over-processing, and defects. These wastes are non value-adding activities that create costs and delays, things for which customers are not willing to pay.
The reason you should think of your business as a series of related processes that create a value stream is because this is what your customers buy. Your customers don’t just buy the goods and services you produced today: they are going to buy (hopefully) the goods and services you produce tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. Therefore they, in essence, buy your value stream.
I’ve conducted value stream assessments of printing companies for large print buyers who understand that they are buying a capability to produce quality products month after month when they enter into a contractual relationship. They also understand that over time, their quality and service needs will increase as marketplace competition advances. They know that their print suppliers must be continually improving their value streams to meet those advancing needs. That’s why they look for companies who have documented their value streams, are routinely improving them, and are creating greater value for them.
By documenting your value stream through value stream mapping, you create a clearer understanding of the relationships among departments both from a product and information flow perspective. When you put your “gemba boots” on and take the time to actually walk the stream from order entry to shipping, you will learn a great deal. You will discover impediments to flow, substantial amounts of waste, and gaps in effective and efficient communications, all of which lead you to undertake improvements to your value stream in a way that maximizes value flowing to the customer and reduces waste. All employees should understand how, through their work in the value stream, they add value for the customer. When they see activities that do not add value, for example, one or more of the seven wastes, these activities should be targeted for elimination. This is the essence of continual improvement.
Bringing your eyes for waste and continual improvement to the value stream and acting on what you find creates a win-win situation: costs decline for you and value increases for your customer. When everyone in the company understands that your customers buy your value stream, continual improvement of it can become a clear management priority.
Great printed products and services come from great value streams!
2020 Continuous Improvement Conference
The 2020 Continuous Improvement Conference (April 5–8 in Columbus, Ohio) is the only industry event focused on helping printing and converting companies achieve operational excellence and Lean leadership. Attendees directly link reduced costs, lowered waste, and increased profit margins to ideas gained from conference presentations and networking. The conference is presented by PIA and SGIA, with association support from FPA, FTA, and TLMI. To learn more about the event, visit ci.printing.org. Click here to register to attend.
John is owner and principal of Compton & Associates, a consulting company dedicated to improving the people, processes, and profits of its clients. He is professor emeritus of the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he taught quality systems and process improvement while serving as director of the Center for Quality and Productivity in the Graphic Arts. Most recently, he served as vice president of quality and training at Vertis Communications and prior to that, he served as vice president of quality and organizational development at Fort Dearborn Company. John has authored and co-authored several books dealing with quality and productivity in the printing and imaging industry. He is a Master Lean/Six Sigma Black Belt and a senior member of the American Society for Quality. John has served as a consultant to the Continuous Improvement Conference since 2010.