Category Archives: Process technology

Squishing a Round Process Foot into a Square Technology Boot…Not!

While I don’t want to sound like a process guy forever ragging on software companies, here we go again. After completing an enterprise process redesign; identifying explicit technology enablement requirements; conducting a search to find the best application fit (we will have to integrate two systems), we selected Company X, which assured us they would tailor their implementation to what we’ve already done and where we are.

Baloney (or is it bologna). Sales transitions the job over to the implementation team, and then we receive a cookie-cutter implementation plan that starts with (get this) 4 days of meetings with me and my client’s management team to redesign our process to suit the software. Wow! Breathtaking arrogance! Then we meet resistance when we ask for a “sandbox” so client managers and I (haven’t implemented this one before) can start identifying what functionality we’ll use and what we’ll hide – plus familiarize ourselves with the interface and start pulling together the data they’ll need to configure the system our way. Hey, why do we need that. They’ll show us how we’ll use their system, after they straighten out our process.

They’re now starting to catch on, but it’s truly hard for them to comprehend how our process, designed before we met them, should drive their technology. Foreign concept, totally. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and remember we’re still living in the past. Before customers started taking over buyer-seller relationships. And before we realized process has to drive technology, not the other way round.


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Problems Implementing Customer-Centric Process Reflect a Larger problem

We can talk customer-centric process specifically until we’re blue in the face, but if we can’t manage process in general it’s all talk. In among the best blog posts I’ve read in memory, Thomas Olbrich of Taraneon Consulting in Hamburg picks up on a conversation comparing U.S and European process we started several years back – and elevates it to a new level of perception. If you’re wondering why implementing customer-centric process is so tough, you must read Thomas’ incisive remarks.

A lightly edited excerpt:

“BPM in US companies has two extreme positions and practically no middle ground: either processes are a top management topic, but as an abstract concept only; or, process lives only at the business analyst and operations level – lots of work in the trenches of daily business but so buried beneath methods and tools process fails to get noticed. Accountability for processes? Nada. Process organisation? Nada. Middle management as the link between business strategy and processes? Doesn’t exist.

“By contrast continental Europe prides itself on its wait and see approach (nastier minds than mine would call it complacency or even ignorance) with the consequence that once they do pick up on an idea someone’s bound to come in to tell them that it’s old hat and they should be looking at what’s new instead.”

If you’re wondering why implementing customer-centric process in either continent (and elsewhere, such as in Australia) is so difficult, you must read this.

SOFTWARE ALERT: Avoid Microsoft Office 365 (at least for now)

Without the usual new product fanfare, Microsoft has unleashed Office 365 on the public. I suspect underplaying the launch points to Redmond wanting unsuspecting buyers to pay for their beta testing.

Don’t get me wrong. OS365 is a powerful concept for small business people who travel. All your apps in the cloud – but more importantly, you can keep all your files up there in your own, almost no cost SharePoint site. And Outlook can reside up there permanently, preserving the data history you lose when you travel without bulk transfer of Outlook data from desktop to laptop when you leave – and the reverse when you return. Of course, we can use LogMeIn or one of the many remote access tools. But they’re slow – and more importantly to me, they take a bite out of an already small laptop screen. Squint time.O365 would resolve all these issues. Easy traveling. If you could even load it. I got as far as trying to preserve my normal e-mail address while switching. Unfortunately, MS has designed a URL ownership verification system that requires adding some text to your URL record, whatever that is. As a “convenience,” to reach your URL registration manager you must use their utility which takes your URL and finds the registrant, often your ISP. But in my case, it popped up the wrong group. And when I finally found the list of values this utility works from, there wasn’t a single URL manager listed I’ve ever used in my relatively long history of business Internet presence. Plus, there’s no manual override.

To solve this and other problems I’ve already encountered, subscribers are supposed to access some magical O365 community that will provide all the help you’ll need. Unfortunately, I suspect this “community” is a ghost town. No one answers. Not even any acknowledgments of receiving your requests, the way the big boys do it.

Promising app? In theory, you betcha. But for now, looks like O365 will be yet another broken promise from Microsoft.

Is There Any Customer Worse Off than the Software Customer?

What could be worse than buying very expensive product that hugely affects your business success – from an industry misaligned with its customers?

The realization is finally sinking in that process redesign and acquiring new technology – in that sequence – is really two phases of a single step. Like walking. You pick your foot up, then you put it down. Doing only the “up” or the “down” doesn’t get you far. Same for process and technology. Streamlining process almost always requires new systems enablement, because ineffective systems are more often than not the primary process impediment. And buying new software systems without first redesigning process just helps you do the wrong stuff faster.

But if this is true, and I maintain it is, why should customers have to buy these two, intertwined components from different providers who rarely even know each other? And what’s the fix?

PS: Sorry to be absent for so long. I’ve had a pair of enterprise process redesigns both followed by total technology replacement, and they’ve both been going through the technology search process in lock step. However, I’m finally coming up for air.

Customer-centricity is irrevocably changing IT. What other disciplines are being reshaped?

Used to be enterprise technology was designed for finance and/or manufacturing first – and all other functions, especially those directly affecting customer experience, as an afterthought. Still today finance and manufacturing technology needs are typically taken more seriously than other functions requirements. But that’s changing.

Increasingly, the business community is viewing technology’s first obligation as enabling and improving process.  When process design starts out at the customer end, rather than deep in the bowels of the company, technology must start there too. Otherwise, process and technology inevitably wind up misaligned. Plus, as it turns out, supporting finance in particular with technology is much less demanding than supporting customer-affecting work. So why would any systems architect let the less demanding functions dominate systems design and decisions? For example, we’re working now with a client that hired us to redesign process and then help select a new ERP system to support process. But they now realize that managing service operations is their major challenge, while they have tons of accounting and finance options. So we’ll design around the application layer.

This customer-driven turn of events turns systems architecture and IT overall on their respective ears. But we would do well to step back and look at other functions to anticipate customer primacy turning them outside-in as well. Your observations?

Reverse Engineering the Organization, Starting from Customer Process

What customers want from companies is becoming a common “conditioner” of organizational design and change management – but rarely a driver. That’s unfortunate, because empirical evidence shows the best way to build customer-centricity AND streamline companies is by starting with customer experience and redesigning the work (process) of the company from the customer in. Plus, putting customer interests first also greatly mitigates resistance to change by giving employees a much more palatable goal to work towards than “making more money for the company” (although that’s what ultimately happens.

But going “outside in” also involves serious change: changing work; who does it; how it’s done; and the underlying technology – all of which in turn require organizational change. Is that why companies continue designing change from the executive level down? Or is it more that management doesn’t like taking direction from customers.

Frankly, I suspect it’s the latter, although we always have to respect management resistance to change. “Taking orders from customers” flies in the face of the long-held belief that companies can manipulate customers into doing their bidding, buying into their brand, etc. And when you step back and considers how out of sync with today’s reality this belief is – you get a sense of how desperately senior management continues clinging to it.

How would you change an organization from internally-focused to customer-focused?

For organizations of all types, adapting to continually higher customer expectations is becoming much more than a “smart thing to do.” It’s becoming a prerequisite for staying competitive. And that’s the problem.

Many organizations don’t really want to become customer-driven. They want to stay in “win-lose” mode with themselves on top. So even if morphing into a customer-focused organization was “easy,” these organizations would struggle.

But making this migration is anything but easy for even companies eager to make the transition. In addition to adopting customer-centric business strategies and training employees to put customer interests first, getting there requires infrastructure change – organizational design, business processes and enabling technology. Not change but CHANGE.

If you were thrust into leadership of a company under market pressure to become seriously customer-driven – or handed a senior consulting role to lead change – where would you start building the customer-centric organization? Where’s the end of the tangled ball of string?

IMHO all three elements are equally important, but they have to happen in proper sequence. Process comes first. Without knowing what work the organization needs to do how to meet customer expectations, how can you create organizational structures appropriate for delivering the work? You can’t. And likewise, how can technology enable process that’s yet to be designed?

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Then let me ask another question? Why do so few companies get it right?

Please visit HYM’s newly-formed Linkedin group, Building the Customer-Centric Organization.

What’s the consequence for marketing, sales & service of poor business/IT communication?

For sure, communication has improved over the past 10 years. The “cold war” has ended, and the two sides are talking. However, this dialog can often be described by one of my son’s tee-shirts, which says: “I can see your lips moving, but all I hear is blah, blah, blah! And almost everywhere we go we see technology not enabling process or enabling bad process. 

Which party is more to blame? IT is the traditional bogeyman, but I believe that’s misplaced. The business side does not have it’s act together here and is all too willing to point fingers at IT without accepting responsibility. I’ve written two articles on this topic that present my reasoning. You can bypadd the qualification step on our side (which is optional) and go straight to them if interested:

Are Outside-In Practitioners Becoming Overconfident of Their Future?

Hey – I’ve been through this entirely too many times. At the start of the relationship marketing movement; when B2B database marketing got serious; when “micromarketing” started; with TOC (Theory-of-Constraints); and in spades with CRM. All sure bets practitioners could take to the bank. All supposed slam-dunks coopted by parochial economic interests – whether by advertising agencies, media outlets, Six Sigma & Lean, CRM software companies, etc.. Looking back on this history makes me fear O-I is ready for a face-plant.

We’re hearing too much ungrounded exuberance, too many excessive claims, too many ungounded predictions about O-I. And saying that market conditions will force business to go Outside-In  ignores history. Let’s face it straight up. O-I will succede if we make it sufficiently attractive to companies, not because the market “forces” companies to go O-I. And accomplishing this will require much more from the O-I community than the community’s yet prepared to give.

We’re changing market phases now from “Innovators” to “Early Adopters.” To get there, we have to do more than prosletyzing the O-I concept. And to reach some of the penetration levels O-I aspires to, we’re going to have to move on to “Early Majority” clients – which will require an execution level the movement’s not yet close to.

To get O-I into the meat of the marketplace, I believe we have to accomplish four, difficult tasks:

1. Do it right:  Migrating from inside out to Outside-In is a three-step journey: a.) aligning strategy to customers (which requires finely honed planning skills); b.) aligning process to strategy (which we’re best at); and c.) aligning technology to process (which the movement often ignores). Sure we can accomplish quick wins with process change or a customer experience initiative – provided the company already leans O-I, like Best-Buy, Fed-X, Trader Joe’s and USAA . But delivering Outside-In enterprise-wide, to its fullest capabilities requires all three alignment elements, not just one.

2.  Train O-I practitioners across the alignment spectrum:  We have lots of O-I practitioners trained in aligning process to customer strategies. Almost none trained in aligning strategies to customers. And way fewer trained in aligning technology with process. We need to provide training in all aspects of O-I. We’re not doing it.

3.  Focus on the steak. not the sizzle:  It’s easy to toss off claims that O-I is the greatest thing since sliced white bread. It’s another thing to make it work. And making it work in organizations not already O-I of their own volition demands properly and persuasively framing the long-term benefits of the inevitable organizational change required to migrate to O-I, rather than pumping the bellows. We need to stop discounting organizational change requirements and start confidently justifying them.

4.  Over-deliver instead of overpromising:  Overselling sweeping, non-specific benefits or offering growth, profitability or expense-reduction bromides hurts Outside-In in the long run. Face it, helping clients achieve broad-based O-I success requires a “grind it out” mentality. We create value incrementally, step-by-step. Enterprise-wide, O-I does not create whopping revenue gains, profitability gains or expense reductions in a flash – or even a year. Double-digit improvements? Very often. But not quantum leaps. Puffery destroys credibility. Remember, our clients are customers. Overselling them on the benefits of Outside-In is very inside-out.

Outside-In has cleared the “Innovator” phase. But we’ll need to change what we say and what we deliver to make substantive progress penetrating the “Early Adopter” segment of companies. And then we’ll have to make even more dramatic changes to enter the mainstream and penetrate the “Early Majority.” As a community, I believe we have a whole lot of hard work ahead of us before we can  bring Outside-In to the corporate masses. Are we ready?

What do you believe?

Is It Time to Redefine the Boundary between Outside-In & Traditional Process?

We (HYM) commonly characterize O/S (office & service) work as O-I’s natural domain and production as more apropos for inside-out approaches, especially Lean, which is our preference. Since most work directly affecting customers happens in the O/S, this creates for a nice, clean, understandable distinction. But every once in a while, complexity does help – as is the case with accurately describing the O-I/production process dividing line.

Case in point. A very high volume reconditioner of capital goods interviewed us for a process engagement intended to increase throughput (we formally kick off next week). The company’s customers had voted with their wallets that they wanted to sacrifice pristine quality for a lower finished price point, which made throughput and efficiency the primary goals. Sounds like a job for Lean (or LSS) rather than O-I, no?

No. During an initial day observing we quickly discovered the major impediments to reducing cycle time. Communication breakdowns and slowdowns only addressable through systems architecture changes plus an infusion of new, communication-based process automation technologye. Yes, we’re to recommend plant layout changes and work force disposition and training, but this client’s primary issues aren’t origi9nating on the shop floor.

From our perspective, neither Lean nor LSS redesign communication process well, especially at the level of specifying systems architecture and application layer changes. In contrast, the full O-I regimen – which aligns strategy to customers; process to strategy; and then technology to process – gets deep into enabling technologies. So we made what I believe is fair representation saying that O-I was a better fit than Lean or LSS, crossing over the basic O-I/production process dividing line. The client agreed with our thinking.

I know our saying that Visual Workflow, the O-I approach we use, will outperform Lean and Lean Six Sigma in this setting will rile up some traditional process types, who’ve at least had safe competitive refuge from O-I Process on the production side. But I’d venture a prediction that we’ll soon see more encroachment by O-I on what’s been accepted as traditional process space as O-I continues to grow in share of overall process redesign work.