The Customer Is Always Right...Right?

The Customer Is Always Right...Right?

Cover of "Outliers: The Story of Success&... Cover of Outliers: The Story of Success

I once spent several long days working on solutions to a problem while trying to create countermeasures to address several gaps in a project. The more time I spent walking the process the more I realized that the reason for the failures was fairly simple. The real problem was that basic project management principles were not put in place. Even more surprising was that I was aware of many gaps for several months without taking any action on them. As an experienced project manager, I should have identified the problems and resolved them before they escalated. Why wasn’t I able to do so?

I discovered the answer while remembering a book I had read the year prior. In the book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell tells the story of an experienced pilot who crashed an airplane by making relatively basic mistakes. Upon further investigation into the crash and listening to the recorded audio from the cockpit, it was determined that the co-pilot had noticed the pilot’s mistake and made a comment to the pilot questioning his decision. The pilot continued with the mistake while the co-pilot was well aware that it was the wrong decision. The co-pilot knew it could lead to dangerous consequences, but did not correct the issue. The author of the book points out that the co-pilot didn’t attempt to change the pilot’s mind out of respect for authority. This "respect" ultimately led to the plane crashing, and the death of both of them along with many passengers. In a similar way, I had failed to escalate an issue that was detrimental to my project because I was afraid to offend the customer.

We are told by society that the customer is always right, and that people in positions of authority are less likely to make mistakes. Take a moment to think of times that you have given feedback to improve the process of someone with whom you work. Now count how many of those suggestions were made to someone who is below or at your seniority level versus the count of those further up the chain of command. We are much better at giving constructive feedback to those that report to us than those to whom we report.

As lean thinkers and doers, we must ensure we don’t fall into this mentality. We need to be willing to improve all processes regardless if they are those of a new employee, a valuable customer, or the senior management of our own company. Only by everyone at all levels being actively involved in identifying waste and driving improvement will we reap the full benefits of practicing lean thinking.

Written by Jacob Nance, Lean Logistics Manager at LeanCor

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Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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