Partnering with customers beyond furniture

by Dana Devol – Director of IT


Local Steelcase Workplace consultant Jacquie Hartmann and Bank & Office Interiors had a good relationship with a major client, the University of Washington ( ). Still, competition for the UW’s business had been mounting and Jacquie knew in order to continue the relationship they had to strengthen it. Steelcase needed to make the move from vendor to customer to vendor/partner.

It turned out Steelcase’s Lean experience ( was the key to that transformation.

Jim Keane, president of Steelcase Group (, came to Seattle to meet with V’Ella Warren, the university’s senior vice president of Finance and Facilities. They discussed sustainability, pricing, research and innovation. But what really caught V’Ella’s attention was when Jim brought up how Steelcase has had success applying lean manufacturing principles to their office processes.

Jacquie, Kurt Jonker, Steelcase Director of Project & Process Management, and Mark Swets, Steelcase Office Lean consultant, sat down with V’Ella and Ruth Johnston, vice president of Strategy, to discuss lean concepts, principles, and tools, and to share where Steelcase is in their “lean in the office” journey.


That conversation compelled them to delve deeper, so Steelcase offered to help the UW as a partner help them start out on their own Lean journeys. The Steelcase team agreed to consult on a specific process identified by the university: furniture ordering and purchasing. B&OI Dealer Principal Jeff Rospond was assigned as co-lead of the Lean engagement along with the university’s Director of Purchasing, Dennis Gawlik.

The University of Washington team participates in a lean

training session in Grand Rapids

To fully expose the UW group to the principles of Lean, V’Ella and Ruth knew it would be valuable to have them visit Steelcase and experience our operations firsthand. So UW paid the travel expenses for eight them fly them fly out for several days of training. “Steelcase made sure the agenda was loaded with hands-on experiences,” says Kurt, including classroom training, gemba (the Japanese word for “the actual place” or as we say, “go and see”) walking and an intensive four-hour lean simulation. The group also met with several Steelcase executives who shared their perspectives on lean and how the process has helped Steelcase become more fit.

During training, “we were also learning more about the issues that impact what they buy from us,” explains Jacquie. “Right now they’re sitting in a lot of our first-generation furniture.” When they came to Grand Rapids and saw our newer products, “they began asking, ‘How can we help you better represent your brand on campus?’”

B&OI and Steelcase’s focus was on helping to accommodate the university’s purchasing. And now? Along with B&OI, Jacquie is working with UW on several research projects, consulting on collaborative workspace arrangements and interfacing with high-level staff on a regular basis. “There are things they’re coming to us with now that they wouldn’t have thought to ask us about before,” she says. “It really demonstrates the way our relationship has changed.”

-Source: Steelcase 360 Magazine – edited for this blog

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