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.”]
(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 http://www.h-ym.com/officeprocess.htm, 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.