Monthly Archives: May 2009

A Shot Across the Bow

A warning to managers seeing the recession as an ideal time to streamline office/service process


Yes, this deep recession is an ideal time to restructure and streamline front and back office process to lower fixed cost and increase scalability for “low-hire” growth in the recovery. In fact, companies taking this critical step will enjoy a distinct competitive advantage once the rebound starts, which economists are predicting in Q3 (of 2009!). They will, that is, if they restructure and streamline office process using a 3rd generation, “outside-in” process approach (think “customer-in”) as applied by such customer-centric “stars” as Virgin Atlantic, Best Buy, Tesco and Amazon.

The right time but the wrong process approach

Unfortunately, most that restructure will instead use more traditional, “inside-out” approaches such as Lean or, worse yet, Six Sigma. What’s lost? I’d like to share with you a Linkedin reply I wrote to a Lean devotee who posted an offensive message dissing the process capabilities of everyone working in the office, front or back–while also spewing forth lots of process nonsense.

[I’ve CRM-ized the message a bit and removed the process-speak (this exchange occurred in the Linkedin Business Process Improvement group following a question regarding whether Lean and Six Sigma had run their course and what would replace them). And please forgive my tone. A large number of contributors had posted great stuff in this thread before this bloke came along and accused a whole bunch of deep thinkers of “not scratching the surface” because they didn’t dig down and find Lean.”]

My reply

(Name withheld) – your point #11, questioning how many office/service (O/S) managers can spell “Lean,” gives you away. You are the prototypical process professional fulfilling Maslow’s prophecy (introduced in this thread several times previously) of all the world tending to look like a nail when the only tool you have is a hammer.
Lean is hardly the be-all and end-all of process. Yes, it’s very effective in most manufacturing settings. But serious O/S process developers (including the ones you demean) eschew Lean because it’s relatively ineffective in most office settings. Unlike Six Sigma, it doesn’t typically damage the office environment. But Lean barely scratches the surface of O/S process opportunities.What’s wrong with Lean in O/S settings? Let’s start with lacking robust tools for assessing and redesigning systems architecture (and I’m not talking about “bolt-on” business process management systems that provide little value in the O/S world). Just as Lean is legendary for rearranging the factory floor, good O/S design methods rearrange the flow of work – which is now information rather than sheet metal, facts rather than components. Lean doesn’t go there.

Next, let’s talk about the application software that enables O/S process–CRM, supply-chain management, communications-based process management, SharePoint, project management applications, proposal development applications. This whole genre of automation software doesn’t exist on the production floor, so manufacturing-based process methods don’t have to account for them. A good O/S process approach should be able to define application software requirements, extending all the way out to fields, forms, views and navigation. Lean doesn’t go there.

And what about alignment? Effective O/S process design should be fronted by a systematic approach to aligning business strategies with customers, not just the desire to do so. Lean doesn’t go there, either. Then it needs to systematically align process to business strategies. As practiced, Lean rarely goes there. And lastly, effective O/S process design needs to align technology with process. Lean never goes there.

If you objectively read all the comments in this thread preceding yours (or read them at all), you’d realize that you are the one who hasn’t “scratched the surface.” Others have.



I would respectfully challenge you to visit, scroll down a bit, and study the chart differentiating the O/S process environment from manufacturing. Then I’d like to read your defense of how a process methodology designed for the latter could migrate to the former. And why anyone would bother trying? Or are we back to Maslow again.

If you’re going to restructure, do it right

If you’re going to restructure and streamline O/S process during the downturn, please use an appropriate process design approach. You’ll be amazed at the outcomes.


Should Sales & Marketing Processes be Melded Under a Single Leader, Or Split Under Two Leaders?

A Linkedin discussion thread (actually two) gave me a bit of a “light bulb” moment this week. I’d first asked multiple sales, CRM and process groups a question about why the relationship between sales and marketing so often becomes so dysfunctional. That provoked quite an outpouring – with most castigating senior management for not setting common goals and ensuring common purpose. More than a few CXOs would get red-faced reading these comments.

The follow-up question asked whether sales & marketing should have separate or unified leadership. A responder, and a veteran manager who’s lived on both sides of the fence, came back with a fascinating comment, saying, essentially, it depends on the organization. But then he added that he’d worked it both ways and observed that marketing becomes more tactical, as in providing more sales support, under a combined leader – but at the expense of big picturte thinking. Conversely, split leadership tends to keep marketing on the big picture, branding side but at the expense of sales support.

What struck me was that more than just depending on the organizational context, the answer also depends on the economic context. Ergo, with most business thinkers agreeing that demand generation is today’s marketing/sales imperative, shouldn’t we be switching to unified leadership of these two functions?

(Other commenters suggested bringin in customer service, too. However, many companies appropriately tie customer service to operations first, with links to sales, so it’s not always practical.)

Will the Big Banks Win Back Consumer Trust?

For several years now, consumers have been slowly migrating from global banks to regional and community banks and to credit unions as well. Sure, the credit card business has stayed behind–for now. But excessive fees, impersonal service (or no service whatsoever) and overall disregard for adding value to customers were driving folks out the door–already.

Biting the hand that feeds you

But then along comes our whopper recession, which it just so happens was triggered in large part by big bank greed. The banks need bailing out–with public funds. But then they turn around and screw credit card holders with sudden interest rate increases and instant reductions in available credit–targeting the very same folks whose tax money is keeping them afloat. Oh, and then big bank CEOs start wining about having any conditions placed on these gifts of public money. Conditions like using the money for what it’s intended for–lending. Plus they’re especially resistant to giving up any of their outlandish compensation packages, which only bank execs can’t see are outlandish.

What are consumers thinking about big bank behavior? “#$%^&*(@!#$%^&*!!!.” Cleaned up and interpreted, consumers are outraged.

But a better question is, “What the hell are the big bankers thinking?”

Big bankers breathing their own fumes

Tell you what; these guys are breathing their own fumes. They’re so insulated from public opinion–plus so uncaring about what customers think–they just assume they can jack customers around all they want, and customers will just come back for more. There’s actually an acronym for this: “BOHICA.” If you don’t know what it stands for, I’m not gonna tell ya’. At least not here.

These bankers think: “People gotta bank. We’re a bank. A great big bank. So we’ll get more than our share of consumer business.” End of consumer business model. And the beginning of the end of consumer business, at least at current levels.

 The beginning of the end

Certainly, some customers will stay with mega-banks no matter what. But as far as winning back overall consumer trust? Not a prayer. Big Banks can’t win back trust without fundamentally changing their consumer business model–as in adding value to consumers before they add value back to the bank. Instead of: “Give us your business because it’s good for our business.”

I strongly suspect that the much-discussed makeover of our banking system will not only occur from the top (government) down. It’s also going to happen from the bottom (consumers) up. Consumers and small business now see big banks for what they are. It’s like these emperors have no clothes and are wearing barrels instead. Can’t you just see it? Mr. cantankerous John Lewis, CEO of B of A, wearing nothing but a barrel? Uuuglyyy.

The migration will continue. But at a faster pace.


Postscript: just thought about this. Why didn’t one of these big banks come out and say, “We’re not going to unfairly raise rates on our loyal customers; Nor will we arbitrarily shut down small business credit lines on customers; We made a mess, and it’s up to us to clean it up, not up to our customers?”

What a powerful branding and relationship-building opportunity slipped away–unnoticed by all. Customers would line up in the streets to switch their business. Like the proverbial ships leaving sinking rats.