Monthly Archives: June 2010

Reverse Engineering Process from the Customer In

Never doubt the power of an outside observer. We often share observations with clients that leave them dumbfounded they hadn’t this or that prior. But last week, I had the tables turned on me. A participant in a Change Management thread directed a comment about Outside-In Process to me saying, “So what you’re really doing is reverse-engineering process from the customer-in.”

Wow. Why didn’t I think of that? Fourteen years ago, when we launched Visual Workflow, why didn’t I think of that? When I look back on the gazillion words I’ve expended attempting (often futilely) to differentiate O-I process from Lean, LSS, Six Sigma et. al., I want to smack myself upside the head.

And just as O-I process reverse engineers work, Outside-In overall reverse engineers the whole company from the customer in. Perfect description…almost. Just one minor flaw. A preposition’s a horrible thing to end a sentence with. :-)

A Threat to Outside-In (Customer-Centricity): Left intact, inside-out organizational design can undo it all

Companies that achieve a significant measure of Outside-In, customer-centricity are at constant risk of “organizational memory” snapping them back or pulling them back to bad-old company-centric operations. And it’s not just internal organizational memory, but new management only familiar with inside-out settings pulling their function or new companies back inside their individual comfort zone. We just saw that happen with Continental Airline and their new CEO. 

Best Buy is another example. After all their efforts to become customer-centric, they’ve now set draconian (to customers) customer service policies that reek of inside-out. The combination of these “customers-last” policies―plus the Geek Squad, which is becoming a parody of itself―has the potential to eventually unravel all the company’s good O-I work, and if service isn’t turned around it might not take long.

When Jules Verne Wrote “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” Did He invent the Submarine? (and we really are talking about Outside-In & customer-centricity)

Through my travels across Linkedin groups, I’ve read (and received) innumerable comments saying this approach or activity or that was started by ____________ in year ____ because they wrote about it in their book, “______________.” I even had someone seriously claim our Visual Workflow approach to Outside-In didn’t exist until 2002 because there was no “academic literature” describing the underlying principles until then – despite HYM and others deploying it regularly since 1996 (actually, I had written a book describing the principles in 2000, but that didn’t count because I didn’t write it during my 10 years teaching graduate B-school). These comments come from marketing, HR (and its related components) but especially from process thought leaders regarding the starting points for customer-centric process. 

So here are the real questions:

 If an academic or a process theorist or even a heady practitioner writes about something they can’t make happen at street level with any frequency, should they lay claim to it? If so, I should lay claim to all of Don Peppers and Martha Roger’s work initiating “One-to-One Marketing” in the 1990s, because I’d been writing about it in the 1980s – without, unfortunately, popularizing it.

 Or if someone writes about customer-centricity in a Lean, Six Sigma or LSS book, has customer-centricity been part of that approach since then? 

 I say “No” to both questions. We don’t practice theory. Concepts to me are only real when there’s empirical evidence they’re being practiced and popularized both. For all the words written about customer-centricity now being integral parts of Lean, 6S and LSS, we still don’t see real world, customer-driven implementations. And when I’ve asked Linkedin commenters/readers (repeatedly) for examples of Lean, 6S or LSS taking companies from inside-out (company-centric) to Outside-In (customer-centric), I’ve heard deafening silence. Except for Toyota examples.

What do you say?

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?