The Customer Code – are you meeting it?

November 1, 2011

One of the greatest misconceptions about Lean process and methods is that they cheapen the product. Lean is first and always about value, and the customer perception of value at each price point is a critical component. It may surprise you that on a fairly regular basis I have to advise a client to put something back in a house rather than take it out.

Most often this occurs when the model has met every aspect of the building code, but has not met what I call the “customer code.” That is sometimes hard to put into words, but pretty simple to describe by example. A few that come to mind:

Walking across a master bedroom floor we felt it bouncing. Badly. Checked and rechecked to calculations and layout of the TJI floor system and it fully met the building code. But it did not meet the customer code and that’s an unhappy customer and negative referral in the making. It was safe, maybe even functional at a basic level, but that’s not value so that’s not Lean.

I mentioned the next example in a previous post and an article awhile back, but it is vivid in my memory and I have seen it several times: a townhome design where you cannot get a queen-sized bed up the stairs. Building code? Check. Customer Code? Fail.

I toured a client’s models and was thoroughly impressed. The value for the price point was remarkable. Everything was tight, quality was great and there was a real sense of style to the place – except for one glaring item. Overhead were the cheapest “gumball lights” made, in China or anywhere else. “Mushroom” lights would have looked elegant in comparison. Really, they were awful and just out of place with an otherwise beautiful home. They could have traded them all out for something acceptable for about 100 bucks total. Find that money somewhere … anywhere … the customer code is calling. (BTW, they had several hundred dollars of shutters on the front that actually detracted from an otherwise beautiful elevation. That pays for better fixtures several times over.)

This next one was not my client, thank goodness, but I saw a project by a national builder where they narrowed the driveways to save concrete. The approach to their already minimum code 2-car garage was now so narrow that unless you owned 2 Yugos, no way were 2 cars going in. A customer disaster was looming. That’s not value – that’s not Lean.

Another one I heard about was a builder who decided no ceiling lights in bedrooms whatsoever. Just a switched outlet. Period. Well, maybe gumball lights aren’t so bad after all? I can just imagine how many times a year a customers will swear under their breath at this builder.  Even if you don’t use it much, still, when you need a ceiling light, you really need it. Watch out. The customer code can bite you on the fanny.

I’d like to hear your examples where you tried to pull out cost and trashed the value proposition in the process. This can be tricky, because personal preference gets in the way. Value to one person might not mean much to another.  Let me know how you worked it out. Email me at or join our LeanBuilding Group at and join the discussion.


Scott Sedam is president of TrueNorth Development, a consulting and training firm that works with builders to improve products, process, and profits. A senior contributing editor to Professional Builder, Scott has written award-winning commentary on all aspects of the business of home building and won the 2015 Jesse H. Neal Award, business journalism's most prestigious prize, for his commentary in Pro Builder. Scott invites you to join TrueNorth's Lean Building Group on LinkedIn and welcomes your feedback at or 248.446.1275.


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