Tag Archives: Office Process

Will Customer Change Force Process Change?

My quick answer to my own question is, “It better…and soon.”

Buyer-seller relations are rapidly evolving, putting buyers in the driver’s seat held by sellers for decades. The consequences of “buyer power” include increasingly idiosyncratic customer behavior from customers wanting to do business “their way” and far more customer pushback than previously. To the latter point, the seller defense, “It’s company policy,” has become outright offensive to buyers. Buyers are forcing sellers into case-by-case negotiations, which on the seller side are conducted by empowered company representatives, often newly authorized to make judgment calls resolving customer issues.

From a process perspective, supporting judgment calls and dealing with highly variable customer behavior both call for decision-support process (typically application software enabled) more than work rule-based process. But we’ve yet to see much progress in that direction. It’s hard moving on from highly-honed skills designing process in a more structured and repetitive work environment, but we must.

Layoffs – Where’s the Learning Curve?

One touchy subject inevitably arises when we design customer-centric process. And I hate to see it happen.

Redesigning process from the customer inwards produces an ancillary “benefit,” which to many execs becomes their short-term ROI justification. While new process designs are adding new value to customers, they’re also streamlining the organization, which can dramatically reduce front and back office FTE requirements, raising the specter of layoffs.

While we always consul clients to first consider using temporary functionless staff for special projects, then reabsorbing them to create “no hire growth,” some layoffs inevitably occur. One of our clients, post process redesign, eliminated 600 front office positions, and our process reworking contributed to the eventual closing of multiple plants. Worse yet, overall demand in their industry was declining, leading to very slow growth.

Two things really bug me about this situation. First, too many companies practice “boom or bust” staffing. They lurch from overstaff to understaffing, because they don’t have a clue how to avoid either excess. Second, necessary layoffs often cut people but not their functions or positions. Process streamlining should reduce functions and positions and does not target specific workers. And in neither case are they learning anything from experience. They just keep repeating their destructive practices.

Not a pleasant topic at all, but I just read an excellent post an excellent post by Ron Ashkenas (co-author of “The GE Workout”) that spot on addresses both things that bug me. If the subject’s relevant, I strongly suggest reading it (link below).


Confusing ISO with Process

Can companies with inefficient, even “broken” process successfully go through ISO-certification? Over the years, I’ve encountered a number that have, which answers the question for me. ISO certifies that quality standards are in place, but it’s a poor indicator of how high the standards are and whether they’re the best the company can do. ISO certification also fails to gauge whether process has been designed to optimize customer experience, despite including numerous customer-related standards.

Nevertheless, organizations frequently confuse the two. Any thoughts on why?

Does redesigning process to cut waste produce similar outcomes to redesigning process to improve customer experience?

Before you protest, I do understand that waste-cutting process approaches can be applied for the benefit of customers. But here’s the difference I’d like to highlight.

Waste-eliminating approaches change internal operations – albeit increasingly to benefit customers. In contrast, customer-experience focused approaches changes what happens at points of customer contact and works its way back inside the company, almost in concentric rings. While customer-sensitive, waste-focused process approaches work from inside the company outwards towards customers, trying to add more customer value at every step – customer experience process methods move in the opposite direction.

I’ve designed process both ways, depending on context. But I do find the outcomes radically different – with customer-experience-based process design triggering far more organizational change and involving much more application-layer technology support (which is not appropriate for every context).

How does my experience square with your hands-on process work? And I hope this doesn’t sound exclusionary, but this is such a ground-level experience that I’m especially interested in comments from experienced process practitioners who have “been there,  seen that” for themselves.

If good process design simplifies work, why are most approaches so complex they detract from process’ “customer-first” mission?

Not only should good process design simplify work, it should also appeal to workers who must intuitively understand the method before they’ll embrace significant work changes that result from redesign – instead of fighting them. The Outside-In approaches – Visual Workflow, CEMM, IDEAS & Process Experience – all do the job.

So why are traditional, inside-out process design approaches complex, requiring special training to understand? And why apply them in front & back offices and service settings where knowledge workers not grasping “what’s being done to them and why” will almost automatically generate resistance to change? For the benefit of the change management industry, I guess. The growing interest in business process redesign has greatly expanded the change management community.

Of course, many approaches address these issues by deliberately not going far enough to “rock the employee boat.” But taking this tack doesn’t get companies remotely close to customer-driven process that adds significant new value to customers.

So far, the process industry as a whole seems unable to answer these questions. Which may be why interest in O-I process is growing.

Can You Lump Customer-Centric, Outside-In Process Together with BPM?

The first question back from most will be: “How do you define BPM?” True to my proclivity for defining terms including “BPM” by their real world use, rather than aspirational musings by thought leaders, I define BPM as:“The totality of formal, structured business process design/management methods developed for use by trained process professionals.”

If that’s how we define “BPM,” does O-I process fit under this umbrella? No, it does not. While O-I process approaches including Visual Workflow, the CEMM Method and Human Process fit the first part of the description, when we get to “developed for use by trained process professionals,” that’s inaccurate. None of the primary O-I approaches requires employee training except for initiative facilitators/leaders―and some of these folks find Visual Workflow, for example, so intuitive they can pick it up on the fly.

Outside-In practitioners don’t need belts to hold up their process pants.

Not needing heavy training in process techniques, process-speak, process-symbology and the like makes O-I process very accessible to a broad spectrum of employees, which is critical to O-I’s success. O-I process focuses on work directly or indirectly affecting the customer experience―which is another way of saying front/back office and service work, much of it performed by knowledge workers. Knowledge workers don’t “just do what they’re told.” Nor do they have the time and inclination to go off and attend process classes. Process approaches for the O/S (office/service) either heavily involve knowledge workers without prior process training or they don’t work. That’s why LSS, Six Sigma and Lean, when applied in the O/S, suffer from a much higher relapse rate than diet programs.

So no, Outside-In process stands apart from BPM, IMHO. It’s “process to the people,” instead of process for professionals.

Other opinions?

In Office/Service Process, Can You Focus on One Customer-Related Activity or Function at a Time?

 I’ll be uncharacteristically direct expressing my opinion.

Here’s an example of why you can’t. A new financial services client had invested lots of effort improving process one function at a time. But the whole place was running out of sync with high defect quotients they wanted us to fix…one function at a time. So we had to explain to them “one function at a time” was actually causing the problems. Here’s the gist of what we said.

O/S flows are highly interdependent. Change one and you readily create unintended consequences affecting downstream flows – plus often you can’t change what needs changing without going upstream. Manufacturing process does experience some of the same issues, but nowhere nearly as many as in the O/S.

They got that part, so we went to work. However, despite our pleadings to not “fix” anything until we’d redesigned the entire flow structure, after every meeting they insisted on going out and “taking care of” issues we’d just unearthed in cross-functional team meetings. When we’d finished and prepared our comprehensive recommendation, complete with comprehensive change management approach, the devil in me made me ask our sponsor, “How many of those ‘quick fixes’ you folks made right after meetings stuck?” She admitted, “Less than half.”

Tons of wasted time and effort, not to mention pointless burning of “change capital,” resulting from their irrepressible impatience.

Do you agree?

Pragmatically speaking, which plays the dominant role: customer culture influencing work or work influencing customer culture?

We’re all schooled to think of culture as something instituted top-down – just as we’re schooled to think that our inner psyche drives our behavior. But some psychologists are now using a “what if behavior” model that doesn’t start with the psyche, but first changes behavior as a means of rewiring the brain. And the approach is considered mainstream rather than exotic or experimental. So what about changing work behavior in order to back-feed new values into business culture? 

Although we’ve only realized the implications of what we’ve been doing for many years over the past several, we’ve experienced instance after instance where instituting customer-centric work behaviors at primary and secondary points of contact changes culture far faster than using the top down approach. 

Of course, C-level management first has to make and back a business decision to migrate from inside-out to Outside-In, but good intent, great leadership, all that don’t get companies to Outside-In unless without redesigning work early in the transition and letting the cultural impact percolate up.

 Have you had similar experiences?

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.

Naked Process: Are you ready to “bare it” to customers (and across silos)?

Companies are accustomed and even comfortable keeping internal process opaque to customers―and often to co-workers as well. “Lack of cost-effective technology” has served as a convenient excuse for shutting out customers and blocking communication across silo boundaries – although we know “technology” is just an excuse.

All that’s about to change. A new technology named CBPA (communication-based process automation) is about to tear away the fig-leaf excuses. CBPA will track typically opaque internal processes including: mortgage and loan processing; insurance claim processing; technology support beyond one-call resolution; special orders; back orders; custom fabrication; incident research; and a host of other high-frequency events – each of which generates high volumes of expensive-to-handle customer calls and e-mail, not to mention endless internal e-mail and even face-to-face conversations.

Because it’s all IP-based and outside corporate firewalls, companies will now be able to let customers access CBPA for self-service – and let internal folks track progress across silo walls as well. Gazillions of dollars could be saved, IF individual companies are ready to “bare their process.”

Several industries have already developed vertical fixes resembling CBPA. You no longer have to call Fed-X or UPS to track a package, just hit the web. Likewise for medical test results. But business-at-large continues to spend gazillions of dollars on people and communication infrastructure to handle customers’ “Where is it?” questions and similar internal queries.

Because it’s IP-based, companies will now be able to let customers access work-in-process data themselves – and let internal folks track progress across silo walls as well. Gazillions of dollars could be saved, IF individual companies are ready to “bare their process.”

I’m excited about this because it’s classic Outside-In. Think of a solution to customers aren’t yet asking for; create customer delight; and grab a lead on competitors. But I’ll admit, it’s also Outside-In because implementing this solution will require organizational redesign, staff redeployment and shedding the traditional “protect ourselves from customers” perspective. Well-led, forward-thinking companies can effect these changes. But many others can’t and will suffer customer consequences as a result.

To be fully transparent myself, I got so excited by CBPA’s potential that I’ve partnered with the software developer’s largest partner to launch a process/technology partnership we’re calling “Enterprise Collaboration.” And I’m presenting a free Avtex-sponsored webinar on March 23rd from 10:00 to 11:00 Central Time (that’s GMT minus 6 hours). You can register @ http://tinyurl.com/yfunttu.