Chapter one of "Leading Lean Software Development" uses an extended example about Southwest being lean. As you can see from my review, I was on a plane when I read the book. It was JetBlue, not Southwest, but the airline part really stuck with me.
While I was flying, I thought about the impact of lean on the customer.
Where the customer and airline are on the same page:
"Are empty airlines seats waste" - I was sitting next to an empty seat and it was great! The book points to both comfort and resiiency for delays.
No checked bag fee - clearly the customer likes this and the book points to faster boarding without cramming as much as possible onboard.
Faster reboarding/interchangeable planes - clearly good for both
Where the customer experience differs:
Southwest's "system" for assigning seats - While it is more efficient for the airline to let people sit in order of boarding, what about the customer. Letting the airline hold the customer's for 9 months confers no benefit.
Since I can only think of one "con", it may just be my opinion. It does get me thinking though - can anyone think of an example where lean does not benefit the customer?
Actually, I have seen some really atrocious stuff done under the banner of "lean" so I'd have to say that the answer to your question depends on what you mean by "lean". For example, if you define lean as the eliminate of waste, then you can end up making many short term cuts at the expense of the people who work there and the long term health of the company. That would not be what I mean by lean, but it is what some people mean by it.
I don't think any company will ever be perfect or can ever get it all right. The real trick is to understand the basis upon which trade-off decisions are made, and to make sure that good people are in place to make good decisions on an on-going basis.
I like John Shook's way of looking at a lean company - he says that most companies are in business to make money, but lean companies make money to stay in business. This reminds me of Deming's mantra: get better in order to stay in business and provide jobs, and profits will follow. In my frame of the world, that works much better than the other way around.
Author of Lean Software Development, Implementing Lean Software Development, and Leading Lean Software Development