The Good, the Lean and the Ugly

My car was written off a few weeks ago.  The insurance claim made an ironic conterpoint to a Lean course I went on the same week.  

“Lean” isn’t an acronym, though it sounds like one.  It’s a description of how Toyota make their cars.  They don’t waste a thing: not time, not effort, and certainly not materials.  No fat: it’s all lean.  Lean is about a lot of things, but ultimately it’s about cutting out waste and making sure that each step in a process explicitly adds value for the customer.  

There’s a lot that I really like about Lean, for instance it assumes that the people who operate a process know more about it than anyone else.  Who’d have thunk?  

I don’t want to turn this into a whinge-fest about my insurance claim.  You’ve been there, you know what a nightmare it is if your car is totalled by three unknown lads in a stolen transit.  

However it seems entirely ludicrous that I ended up with the notes from 15 phone calls made to four different companies on my pad, and those were only the calls when there was something worth noting down. And why four companies? Why was I  the one co-ordinating the insurance claim itself, the legal claim for uninsured losses, the loss-adjustor’s valuation, the purported hire car while the claim was settled and the other purported hire car while the claim was settled?  Actually, that’s five companies, isn’t it?

Breathe in, two, three

Breathe out, two, three

Think of Calm Blue Light

It made an interesting case-study on the Lean Course, and I wonder if there is money to be made creating a “Lean and Mean” accreditation for organisations.  If an insurer could prove they had a Lean Claims Department, it would make me choose to use them.  

Just one phone call to sort out a claim?  Who wouldn’t go for that?

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6 responses to “The Good, the Lean and the Ugly

  1. I was privileged to be invited to tour Toyota’s engine manufacturing plant on Deeside 18 months ago. Not long back, it turned out its millionth engine, but walking round the factory on a weekday afternoon, you’d think they’d just finished building the place the day before. It’s THAT clean and tidy. Cleaner and tidier than a chocolate factory, as I can attest from experience. And if that doesn’t put you off chocolate – well, it shouldn’t. Even a chocolate factory doesn’t actually NEED to be that clean.

    The tour commentary was conducted in Japanese, and the few English invitees had a radio earphone and a simultaneous translation from a little woman who followed the boss man everywhere. It was a bit weird.

    Here’s the thing: Toyota don’t employ cleaners. EVERY other place I’ve ever been to, much less worked, employs people who do the work, and OTHER people to clean up after them.

    This leads to a HUGE team of skilled individuals buggering off at five o’clock every day, and another, not quite so huge but still large team of unskilled individuals following them round most of the day with a mop and sweeping brush, following rigidly defined plans of what to clean and when.

    Whereas at Toyota, the huge team of skilled people still bugger off at five, but they STOP WORKING at four thirty (and let’s face it, the people in the previous example probably did too). They then spend thirty minutes cleaning, and it’s in their interests to do it right because it’s THEIR area they’re cleaning.

    Where this is leading to is this: just as the people who operate the process know it best, they know how it should be cleaned. They know what they want out of the cleaning process.

    The question I’m driving at is: who should coordinate the activity around your car write off? The insurance company? It should be what they do, but ultimately they’re not invested in the process.

    I’d solve the issue like this: on application for car insurance, you state, as part of your application, your hourly rate. That figure forms part of the calculation of your premium. The higher the hourly rate, the higher the premium, although the factor need not be large.

    Then, if and when you make a claim, you record ALL the time you spend making the claim. Additionally, you record all the correspondence of any type. Then your claim looks like this:

    Item 1: repairs to car – £1000.
    Item 2: hire car – £200
    Item 3: tow truck – £50

    But also…
    Item 4: phone calls – 8, totalling 48 mins @ 50p/min, £24.
    Item 5: time spent arranging hire car, on phone, talking to solicitor, loss adjuster etc – 2.5 hours @ £50/hour – £125.

    Tell you what – if you were able to bill the insurance company for your time as part of the claim, that would focus minds wonderfully, I suspect. You should try it. The principle that your time is not free is a common feature of almost every other business relationship you have. Why not this one?

  2. Hi there SoRB, good to see you around.

    Is it fanciful of me to think that there’s a responsibility thing involved in the clean up after yourself approach? Not to mention a strong incentive for people to get out of their own backsides? Who cleans the communal areas like loos, stairs and corridors at Deeside?

    You’ve got an interesting idea regarding the right-off, and one which would have appealed to me strongly in my days as a contractor, but how would you keep the punters honest?

    Realistically, I only needed to speak to the insurance company twice and do four things:

    Call 1

    Report the accident (with the details would then go to both the insurance company and the lawyers)
    Agree a time for my original car to be collected
    Agree a time and place for a hire-car to be provided

    Call 2

    Accept the valuation

    And that’s it. It really didn’t need to take more than two phone calls. Well, maybe two more: one to agree to how the lawyers would handle any legal claim and a second to be told of the outcome of that claim.

    Actually I’m not complaining – I have persistently bought the cheapest possible car insurance, how can I possibly complain about cruddy service?

    Thanks for dropping by.



  3. “how would you keep the punters honest?”

    Well, each of the companies with whom you’ve corresponded should have a record of the correspondence. You certainly should. Your phone bill will show which numbers you called and for how long. Any letter can be charged at a standard rate like a bank. Any late delivery of hire car will be recorded.

    Ultimately, you keep the punters honest by believing the vast majority of them and paying up without question if the figures aren’t excessive, and every now and then auditing them and questioning their figures, and if they can’t justify them, then not only do they not get their claim paid, they’re blacklisted and prosecuted for fraud.

    The tricky bit would be setting up a pricing scheme which makes people state a realistic value for their time. You don’t want some unemployed numpty claiming he’s worth £200/hr. Similarly, ideally, you don’t want a barrister balking at your premium and buggering off elsewhere, simply because he stated his real hourly rate. Also, you don’t really want everyone simply saying “£1/hr” to get the cheapest premium, on the basis that it’s only OTHER people who have accidents. Look, I’m an engineer, not a social scientist (30 hours of lectures a week rather than four…), or an economist, so I can’t really say what would work. But something would, I think.


  4. >> You don’t want some unemployed numpty claiming he’s worth £200/hr

    I knew that man! He was unbelievably impressed by himself and his skills and his consultancy rate. Trouble was, no-one else was.

    Me, I think that it’s simpler and easier to clean up the processes you’ve got than introduce new ones. But it is an interesting idea.


  5. I was trying to think of a way of annoying the people who have been supposed to be sorting out a problem with our hot water pipe since Friday, and have decided to bill them for the time I have wasted sitting around waiting for them or phoning them up to see why they haven’t fixed the problem yet. I am going to charge 22 pounds per hour, this being my hourly rate for teacher training at the mo.

  6. Pingback: On the gasman not comething. « Verbosity

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