Special Snowflakes For Unique Customers

Snowflakes, like customers, are all beautiful and all unique. But when your customer wants something very specific but can’t express their exact requirements, what can you do? A group of 28 King County employees met last Thursday at noon for our monthly Lean for Lunch to try and figure it out.

The Scenario: You work for the King County snowflake department, and each team represents a division. Your objective is to make a specific subset of the population smile by delivering quality snowflakes to those that need them (your customers).  You receive funding to deliver these snowflakes, so you want to make sure that you continue to make the customers smile.

The Facilitator: Becca Cole, a Lean specialist with Jail Health Services, represented the customer and walked around to let attendees know which snowflakes made her smile.  She said, “You can talk with each other, but I will only be responding to the finished product.  Any snowflakes that I don’t like will be considered garbage, or will have to go back to be redone.”

The Discussion: After the first 4 minute round the groups discussed assumptions people had beginning the exercise, and how it felt to have to assume what the customer wanted. Becca asked,What did you learn from my response to the snowflakes? Were you able to make adjustments to meet my needs?”

Each group was allowed to ask two questions to try and gain clarity our customer’s needs. The results revealed that our customer liked snowflakes with multiple axes of symmetry, crisp cuts, many snowflakes, and safe snowflakes (what is a “safe snowflake”??).

For round 2 the attendees were asked to use the customer’s responses to guide creation of the next batch of snowflakes.  After another 4 minutes Becca asked, “Prior to me judging your snowflakes, did you know for sure that it was going to make me smile? What challenges did you face in evaluating whether the snowflakes were quality?”

The Takeaway: We’ve all learned from an early age that the customer is always right, but do we really know what the customer wants or needs to begin with? We can save ourselves and our customers a lot of time and frustration if we can understand and document customer requirements up front.

 The Key Points

  • Whenever possible, it is best to gather requirements from the actual end customer. All requirements up and down the organization should be centered on the actual needs of the customer.
  • Customer discovery is a whole team activity, whole value stream activity. Start broad and open-ended, then you can really zero in on the specifics.
  • The customer requirement is what they say, and the translation is what you can measure to understand if you are meeting that need.
  • Drive towards measures around quality, cost, delivery and safety.

– Terra Milles

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