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Gotcha! Oh, Wait. Do I Know You?

One of the challenges of being a big company lies in making sure one hand is talking to the other. I recently came across an instance in which this seemed not to happen.

I was running McAfee security software at the time, and occasionally received emails from them. I was mild amused to see their spam filter in Outlook capture one of their own marketing messages.


On one hand, it was refreshing to see a company not give itself special treatment. If the message had all the markers of spam, it should have gone into the spam folder, and it did.

But, on the other hand, it seems like a basic function to check the message against their own software. After all, unlike other companies, McAfee knows which security program its customers are running. Plus, they not only have the blueprint. They wrote it!

This incident highlights how connected the different parts of the company are in the eyes of the customer. Buyers see both the promise and the delivery. But in many companies, those functions are disjointed. One group, the marketing team, is building a set of customer expectations for the company. Other groups are the ones responsible for meeting those expectations.

What does this mean to you in the Lean world?

First of all, it highlights the need for communication. Many companies have cross-functional meetings only at the highest levels. Directors speak to directors. And the communication at the lowest levels is only ad hoc. That just means that product managers only talk to manufacturing managers and supervisors when there is something specific going on.

Lean provides a much greater vehicle for communication. Metrics are posted on walls. Teams conduct monthly operations reviews and daily stand-up meetings. Policy deployment clearly spells out what the teams are working on. If the desire to connect more is present, the opportunities are abundant.

Secondly, Lean provides a chance to strike quickly when an opportunity presents itself. Once communication is more prevalent, capabilities and market changes inevitably become the topic of conversation.

Marketing: “We’ve lost some business due to our lead times.”

Operations: “We could probably cut a day off of customized orders if we could work something out with ACME.”

Purchasing: “We’ve been talking to them, but it hasn’t been a priority. Should we push the issue?”

This conversation could just as easily have started with purchasing asking ops if there were any vendors that were creating obstacles. When communication channels are opened, ideas don’t wither. They get heard by people who can take them a step further. The point is that when (1) people talk and (2) there is a focus on getting better, good things can happen.

I’d be interested in hearing in the comments about how your company talks across functions. Are there silos? Are you organized by value streams? Do you have other functional groups sitting in on your staff meetings? I’d love to hear how you handle your communication.


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