An Article From the Archives:
This month’s From the Archives, which first appeared in the 1989 issue of Service Insider, illustrates the powerful benefits of collaboratively involving customers in new product development and subsequent sharing of improvement ideas. Though not referenced by name, the article includes elements of 3P (collaborative product/process design and problem-solving), Early Equipment Management (cross-functional design to ensure manufacturability and ease of use), and Maintenance Prevention Design (purposeful design to achieve optimal maintainability/reliability). In addition, the approach they use to facilitate their project management is tailor-made for Obeya…this month’s Word of the Month!
When your company goes to the drawing board to design a new service or product, bring your customers along by putting them on the design team. Working together reveals customer needs and stimulates your people’s creativity. But don’t stop after the design stage. Form a team to train customers in using the new product or service. Inside tip: The key to success is keeping customers involved. Do it by evolving a customer team into one that will monitor product or service performance and report back to you regularly with improvement suggestions.
When the needs of customers changed, Goss Newspaper Printing Products called in a top team of experts – its customers. Together, Goss and some of North America’s biggest publishers formed teams that worked on the design, installation and startup of a new line of sophisticated presses that would meet publishers’ traditional need for high-volume output and their new need for high-quality color reproduction.
The bottom-line result of all this customer involvement, according to Goss Vice President and General Manager Les Kraft, is “the most successful product in our history with over three-quarters of a billion dollars in sales in the first year and-a¬ half. We’ll be installing a press each month for at least the next three years.”
The involvement with customers delivered expected and unexpected benefits. “First of all, it gave us excellent, excellent practical input for a new and effective press design.” That was expected.
What wasn’t expected was the effect the involvement had on people. “It gave us, I believe, increased engineering productivity by stimulating the creative energy required when you’re directly involved with a customer,” Kraft says. Engineers were stirred by the desire to solve problems and satisfy the customers with whom they were working.
And Goss employees in the plant were pumped up when customers came out to watch their presses being assembled. “It made our manufacturing people feel like they were a team with the customer. It made people on the factory floor proud of their work by having customers in the plant. It set a level of performance higher than anything management could have set.” For customers, the shop floor involvement paid dividends by making them very familiar with the press’ internal systems. It removed a lot of the fear and mystery associated with a new product.
Along with a successful new product come satisfied customers, such as the Times Journal Company in Spring¬ field, Va., which received the first Colorliner press last October. The company uses it to help print a weekly workload of seven million papers, including several dailies, outside commercial jobs and regional editions of USA Today. Michael Bella, vice president of production, recalls that there was a lot of communication with Goss, a division of Rockwell International. “We had a very good relationship with Rockwell on it,” says Bella. “They talked with us, they listened to us and they made the changes we needed. I think they did an excellent job of designing this press.”
Forming the Team
The impetus for forming customer teams came in the mid-1980’s as newspaper publishing underwent an important change. North American newspaper publishers had always demanded high-output from their printing presses. Half the newsprint used in the world is used in the U.S. and Canada, notes Kraft. In fact, two U.S. papers. The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, use as much newsprint in a year as the entire country of Brazil.
But by the middle of the decade, Goss’ customers wanted more than high output alone. Led by USA Today, color had become an important ingredient in newspaper printing. “And not just color, but quality color,” Kraft notes. Publishers were not willing to sacrifice productivity for quality color. They wanted both.
“It became a real challenge for the newspapers and for us,” Kraft recalls. “We came to the conclusion that a new press was needed, and we went to the boards to design it. That’s when we put together the design review team with our customers.”
The 30-member design review team, representing 12 publishers, studied press designs, and made suggestions. Members came from a cross-section of management, maintenance, and operations at each publishing company.
The team’s major contribution, says Kraft, was in the design of press controls. Traditional controls could have required doubling the size of the crew needed to operate the 35-foot high press and all its settings for ink, speed, registration, etc. Instead, powerful new electronic controls and software were designed with input from customers.
Customer requirements for easy maintenance led Goss designers to make the press’s internal workings accessible from a standing position. “They solved major problems for us by telling us what’s important to them and what they had to be able to get at easily and quickly,” says Kraft. “They told us what they didn’t like about our old systems and we corrected them in the Color¬ liner.”
Training for Customers
Customer involvement doesn’t end with the design. When orders are placed, customers are assigned project managers to answer their questions and keep them posted on their orders right through manufacturing and installation.
And customers don’t begin operating a press “cold.” Goss has a three-part training project for customers:
- Six months before the press is due to begin running, press room managers and maintenance people go to a Goss facility in Chicago for a week to practice running and maintaining the press on special simulators.
- Next, the customer sends a team of up to five people, usually from mainte¬nance, to the Goss manufacturing plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where they watch the press being made. “They see the machinery being constructed so they have a real chance to see the internal guts of it before it’s shipped to them all buttoned up,” Kraft says. “We’re very open and this gives us a real payback. Customers get to know people at the factory. They usually make a friend during the week they’ re there. If they have a question later, they can person¬ ally call their friend at the factory.”
- After the press is built, a Goss field training team goes to the customer’s plant to help with the installation. Several installations are under way. “Their people actually work with ours to make the press ready to print,” says Kraft. “We tum over a press that is primarily checked out and ready to go.” In the past, the manufacturer sent someone to supervise the installation, but the actual job was done by a subcontractor. “We don’t believe that’s the way to do it anymore,” says Kraft.
Smoothing the Snags
In addition to the field training teams, Goss has started sending start-up teams to customer sites after hitting some snags at the Times Journal Company in Virginia. Bella says the press installation went smoothly, but the startup was tough. “I think there were things they were learning as we were learning. But the good thing was, they kept people here and they still have people here. They made a commitment and they’re following it through to debug this thing and make it do everything it’s supposed to do. It’s ahelluva printing press.”
Since the start-up teams were organized, press startups have gone smoothly, says Kraft. Goss experts on the team help customers run the press for three weeks.
Even more customer involvement is ahead to keep improving the press and its operation. Next year the company will hold a design review meeting where customers can exchange information about operating their Colorliners. Over the years, Goss has learned that some customers develop better operating techniques than others. “If we can get the customers talking and working together, then everyone will pick up on the guys with the good techniques,” Kraft explains. Plans call for the design review team to evolve into a techniques review team. It will meet twice annually to advise Goss about the best operating techniques and how to improve press settings.
Finally, the customer involvement has helped Goss compete internationally against German and Japanese rivals, an important consideration in this era of market globalization. Although made for the North American market, the Colorliner’s combination of print quality and productivity, is boosting international sales. “We believe we have a world-class operation and we welcome the competition,” says Kraft. ” We believe we have a better press and a better design.”
Department Quick Tips
✓ Support sales with customer service. Increase the contact between your field representatives and a customer’s technical crews.
✓Retaining employees is the first stop in retaining customers.
✓Probe customer’s continuing needs with follow-up actions such as questionnaires, phone surveys and forming focus groups.