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Think Like Your Competitor to Beat Your Competitor

While continuous improvement is a great and wonderful thing, it has one glaring weakness. You have to be right when you define what improvement actually is. If you missed the mark, you’ll just get more effective at doing the wrong thing.

One trick that you can use to make sure that your definition of improvement is correct is to look at yourself through the eyes of your competitor. Imagine that you are a marketing manager for the business you most frequently go head-to-head against. What weaknesses would you try to exploit? Which of your own strengths would you try to emphasize? What are your advantages from the customer perspective?

Lean is very effective at doing what you ask it to do. If you want to free up working capital, kanban can help you do that. If you need shorter lead times, reducing inventory and batch size is a good way to go. And of course things like poka yoke and standard work will help improve quality.

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Think Like the Competition to beat the Competition

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But everybody is trying to do those things. The unheralded power of continuous improvement is that it also helps you define the processes to do unusual things. For example, perhaps you identify that drop shipping for reseller customers would help you significantly. You’d be unlikely to get that process perfect the first time. Continuous improvement efforts will dial it in down the road.

But that comes back to the main point of this article. You have extremely limited resources in a world of virtually unlimited competition. There are very few truly unique businesses. With rapid global shipping, social media, and the ease of placing orders online, your customers can find multiple alternatives to what you do in just a few keystrokes.

So get into the mind of those competitors. Look at yourself through their eyes. Consider how they will try to exploit your weaknesses. Think about how they will talk up their own advantages. Getting this insight will help you anticipate their moves.

One final thought. People become biased when they are a part of an organization. Unless you are already a dominant market leader, you should come away with a fairly substantial list of opportunities when you do this exercise. Some of your findings will probably even be embarrassing. Remember your competition is winning business from you. If you don’t know how they are doing it, you’ll never win it back. To prevent this failure mode, I recommend that you bounce your findings off of somebody who does not work for your company. That person will not be as influenced by commonly held beliefs within your organization.

With that information you can define a more effective strategy. Policy deployment can then take that strategy and turn it into actionable items for frontline teams. And that is where the real power of Lean is unleashed.


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