An article at Bloomberg Businessweek entitled low inventory angers John Deere customer caught my eye this week. The article's author writes of the perils of running lean, claiming that lean is the cause of John Deere's customer service problem. This strikes me as another unfortunate example of L.A.M.E. not Lean. Mark Graban coined the term L.A.M.E. includes stuff that people call "lean" but really isn't a good representation of true Lean mindsets and practices.
The article states that while lower inventories have helped the company meet short term financial results it has led to shortages in the supply chain.
In recent years, Deere has been focusing on becoming a build-to-order company. That bolstered prices and profit because keeping smaller stockpiles on hand reduces the amount of materials and working capital a company needs. But production cuts and the tightest inventories in the industry have led to a shortage of Deere equipment as the farm economy is strengthening. And that's pushing customers ….toward competitors.Unfortunately the lower inventory levels will result in lost profits and market share.
Deere shrank its inventory 28% in the 12 months ended on Jan. 31. As a percentage of sales in the most recent reported 12 months, Deere's inventory was just 12.3%, the lowest among 15 farm and construction equipment makers, including Agco and Caterpillar. Fewer products have big implications for the company's dealers. "It means I am losing market share," says Larry Southard, co-owner of a centralIt appears the company has used their resources to focus on innovation.
dealership that gets 90% of its sales from Deere gear. He figures his dealership's sales would be up to 20% higher this year if it had enough inventory to meet customer demand and products were shipped more quickly. "I suspect we can lose at least half a dozen deals a month," Southard says. Iowa
Ken Golden, a spokesman forThe company seems to have misjudged the market by not understanding the voice of the customer.
Moline( )-based Deere, says the manufacturer's "intense focus" on managing inventory has improved its financial performance and has allowed it to design better products for customers. Ill.
Deere Chief Financial Officer James M. Field said on a Feb. 18 conference call that the company had been too pessimistic about the effect of the global recession on North American farmers. In November, Deere predicted its net sales would decline about 1% in the year ahead after dropping 19% in the 12 months ended Oct. 31. Deere expected production tonnage to decrease 3%. In February the company revised its outlook upward, forecasting sales to increase up to 8% in 2010 as gains in farm cash receipts rise far more than expected.It is not clear whether the author only or whether the author and John Deere doesn't understand Lean. Lean is often mistakenly to blame for poor performance. Low inventories are commonly linked to Lean because many organizations are able to reduce inventory level due to practicing Lean Thinking. But "true" Lean Thinkers understand lower inventories are a resultant of a process improvement not a solution to a problem.
Now, we all understand that high inventory levels hide problems. The same is true in this case. While higher inventories might have met some short term demand at a higher cost, the real issue is related to poor understanding of the market. John Deere did not fully understand what they needed to produce. I think it would also be safe to say that the cycle time to produce their product is too long compared to the level of inventory and changes in market demand. They simply can't keep up. This is not a failure of Lean but rather a failure on not using Lean. Lean is about understanding the customer demand, building to that demand efficiently via binary connections in your supply chain, and recognizing abnormalities so you can quickly react and solve problems.
Time will tell whether John Deere understands Lean and how they choose to react to this opportunity for them to exceed their customer's expectations. For now, this can serve as a lesson for all of us to learn from. Low inventory levels are not Lean. Making your customers happy by meeting their demands is Lean.
If you enjoy this post you may want to connect with me on Linkedin or follow me on Twitter. You can also subscribe to this feed or email to stay updated on all posts. For those Facebook fans join A Lean Journey on our facebook fan page.