I gave a short presentation at GreatPreneurs’ conference (#GPConf2014) in Manchester this weekend on the subject of “What does your support network do for you?”
I wasn’t talking about friends or family, but rather the startup events and meetings that occur in your city.
I’m pretty convinced you could eat for a month without having to buy any food by attending an event in the morning, a different one in the afternoon and one or two in the evening. Every day. In Manchester, UK, there are enough events to do this. But if you were to do so, that’s all you’d manage to accomplish. Well, that plus swapping business cards and talking to people. You wouldn’t actually get any work done.
When you’re pre-startup, bouncing around ideas and wondering what you’re business is going to be, these events can be ideal. They allow you to learn from others, get a feel for what your city provides and understand how others have succeeded or failed.
Shift of Focus
At the point that you commit to having a startup, then the focus changes. You’re no longer going to these events just for yourself, you’re going as a founder of your startup. The question of value also changes. My rule is “has my company progress further by me attending this event than if I’d focussed on growing the company instead”. That could mean developing new features, ringing up a customer, creating some marketing collateral, etc.
This shift of focus vastly reduces the number of events that are worth attending. In fact, it highlights gaps in the current support network. You may find, as we did, that there weren’t events focussed on what you wanted. So we created our own. The good thing is that nowadays, with tools such as eventbrite and meet up, you can create an event really easily. I’d recommend treating the event as a mini startup in itself, so think about the customer development very early on before you scale.
Pay It Forward
However, events shouldn’t just be about receiving. For equitable events with everyone sharing, rather than those where you pay to attend, the events only work if you give. You may be giving information, advice, consultancy, some information about yourself, friendship. That all needs to be provided for someone else to receive. Sometimes, it will be you receiving and that’s good. I’d ask everyone to give before they receive and to give more while they have the time, because when they near the end of the runway, they’ll really require some help. Think of it as investing in your future.
Slides and Comments
I’ve embedded the slides here and I’d be happy to hear comments. You can find me @alanward.
Time has been passing quickly at Besteno, so I thought I’d take stock and describe what can happen in the first three months of a startup, specifically my startup, Besteno. What have I done, where am I headed?
October 26th 2013 was the first day of LeanConf 2013 (the link now relates to the 2014 conference) and I was due to present the following day about my experiences of using Lean Startup concepts in existing organisations, specifically social care in the public sector. Up to that point, I’d been talking to friends about setting up a company together. However, most had families, couldn’t commit or were in a different place to make it too awkward to co-found. During that conference I just decided to start on my own and then look for a team later on.
As a web startup, that meant I had code, test, maintain and design. Before any of that, I had to understand if the business was worth getting involved in. So that meant business model canvas for one year and one for 3 years. I had a long-term vision and still want to achieve that so every short-term objective is evaluated against the long-term aim. That’s been a consistent strategy. From the business model canvas, I created a couple of sketchy business plans and then projected user growth. While this may not have been accurate, it’s a useful guide and I change it when I discover accurate data. Conducted some market research, which combined with user growth, enabled me to create cash-flow forecasts for every month for 5 years. Monthly may seem excessive, but I’m quick with spreadsheets and once you done figures and calculations for two months, you just copy for the rest of it. This wasn’t onerous for me. It’s not a route I’d recommend for everyone, but suited me with the skills I already use.
All of that preparatory work proved to me that this was an idea to at least get to the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) stage.
Then development started.
I had to teach myself Rails. Fortunately, I had a business idea earlier in the year and played with Rails to get my head around how it worked. However, I was still a novice. I used to code 15 years ago, but hardly ever do it, up until now. Best thing I did was ditch SQLite and go straight for MySQL, even for dev. It was actually quicker. It also makes the transition from dev to production a lot easier. PostgreSQL is good as well, if not better, but I had my reasons for MySQL.
I opted for Rails 4 and Ruby 2.0 as they seemed stable and the increased remaining lifetime compared to Rails 3 was attractive. That then gave me some other problems. I knew I wanted a scalable host/cloud and very few advertised that they handled Rails 4 back then. I opted for AWS having found a good couple of articles on how to set up the servers. Before that though, I had to understand web service architecture. Having been a business transformation consultant for the last decade or so, I didn’t have the nuts-and-bolts knowledge of how web architectures worked. Fortunately, I knew what most of the components were, just not how you’d use them. So that filled a couple of evenings.
Other odd technical things I’ve had to pick up along the way:
how to run a process without it stopping when your session stops – use nohup or run as a daemon – depending on the process. And find out how to stop them (kill -15 was the lowest level kill I found that worked for one stubborn process)
how to monitor the above processes – tail -f is very useful
setting up memcached and how to see if it’s working – use the port.
wishing every shell had nano instead of vi. I prefer nano and I’m sure I could replace vi with nano, but then it crops up again when creating batch jobs with crontab. There are enough things to learn in life, cryptic applications like vi aren’t on my list.
Learning CSS, html and bootstrap. Understand the effect that the order of commands has.
Firewall configuration, scaling options, pricing options with AWS
Understanding how to retain data when your really big server that you hired for a very cheap spot rate on AWS kicks you out of the session – it happens so think about what you’ll do with the process if it stops midway. Some of my processes were taking 2 days to complete. I didn’t want to waste my time or money.
Understanding solr and its rails integration through sunspot. There are some odd anomalies.
I didn’t do TDD. Sorry to Rails devs out there. I just couldn’t get tests to execute, usually because of the software stack on my MBP including several OS X upgrades. In fact I even had to install RVM in an odd way on the MBP just to get it to work. My view with TDD was that it was going to take me a few days to get it working; resintalling, etc. I figured it was more important to start coding, then retrospectively write test scripts for the more important features once I had breathing space. That’s the technical debt I took on.
Integration with other providers is painful. Overall, I found lack of current documentation to be the biggest issue here. Add to that documentation that doesn’t reflect the behaviour of the API itself and manuals that weren’t well written (probably just rushed).
I left ETL processes until after I’d built and launched. As much as they are needed, they weren’t part of the MVP. Do it manually on a command line if needed to start with.
Coding is a different exercise now compared to when I used to do it. Back then, I used to develop with a few reference manuals to hand (K&R anyone?) and using man, apropos and a few other useful commands. Now, just go to stack overflow or official guides online.
Finding where mysql logs are stored on AWS
Trying to identify the active memcached configuration file is a bit of trial and error. I imagine you could deduce it logically, but that’d mean access to information I hadn’t thought of.
Part-way through planning I realised I’d need funding so I started talking to Access to Finance. Separately, I applied for funding through TSB SMART. I found out about it late and submitted around midnight of the last day (with about 12 hours to spare). The exercise itself was useful to me; it made me think more about what I wanted money for. So instead of thinking I need a couple of developers and a designer to improve the product, I started thinking in terms of work packages and deliverables. Fortunately, that’s something that comes naturally to me from my previous business transformation background. Unfortunately, it doesn’t align well with sprints including as-of-yet unknown requirements. This made obtaining funding a bit uncomfortable process, especially as Manchester seems relatively financially risk averse. Which is at odds with the culture of the Madchester music scene during which I arrived in Manchester a couple of decades ago.
Premises and support
SBIC have been great. I get a day per week out of the house in their business lounge. They’ve been a very useful sounding board. Being in a environment where I know I have to work is ideal. There are few distractions for me and I just get on with what I need to do. They’ve also managed to find a few subjects about business that I know I’ve been deficient in (or at least, I wasn’t sure what I didn’t know).
Free wifi access in Manchester is a bit poor. Shame. It’s a major city, but bars and coffee shops seem to think of wifi as an extra that you have to ask for. All too often, it just doesn’t work. Whereas it should be considered about as important as chairs or heating nowadays. It is changing for the better. The implication of this is that it’s not as easy as you may think to find places to work.
I’ve attended numerous events at various sites around the city, predominantly Thoughtworks’ offices, The Hive, Techhub and I run Founders’ Assembly, currently hosted by Matt at The Assembly.
Founders of other startups have been supportive. Like most groups of people, there are some who are just generally open and share everything and then others who don’t share as much, whether for potentially misguided commercial reasons, lack of community focus or just not their personality. I have an overall feeling that other founders are quicker to give advice than to listen. That may be the typical age and experience or just the way that we founders are.
Business Growth Hub are a major contributor to business support in Manchester. As well as one-to-one advice, they host a number of events for startup businesses. I haven’t attended as many of these as I could have, mainly because I’ve already accumulated a lot of experience in running my previous company and as a consultant on client sites. I can imagine that, if you were new to business, then their events would be much more suitable.
I use a combination of Trello (for business activities) and Excel (for tech activities). Trello works well for business. I like the finality of dragging a card to Done (even though I know I can undo it). However I couldn’t get on with Trello for development, partly because I was offline a lot of the time. So I built my own two worksheet spreadsheet. I’ll describe that in more detail in another post. The important point for me was that I could put it on Dropbox and it’d be with me wherever I was, regardless of how good the wifi connection was.
It was interesting to see the first few queries that arrived via Google search. Truly the long-tail in operation:
belizean cheesecake recipes
grendad best drumer [sic]
prembroke mass nunnery
ukraine electric bass
There were some more common queries as well which was a nice balance.
If you’re calculating any forecasts, keep a separate worksheet in your spreadsheet for assumptions. Use this for growth ratios from month-to-month, revenue per customer, staffing ratios required. Anything that you’re assuming or deciding. Choose 3 colours – one for assumptions, one for calculated values, one for known facts. Hopefully by the end of planning, you have none left of the first (never works that way). The reason I do this is so that I can change my forecasts very quickly by changing the assumption. Very useful if I’ve assumed a figure (e.g. number of people in the UK), then find out from ONS or somewhere an actual figure. First I change the figure, then change the colour. Then I can see the effect that change has had across the forecast.
Business Model Canvas first. Even if you only spend an hour or two on this. Do it. Then revisit it after a few days. Then revisit on a regular weekly or monthly basis depending on your rate of change
Manage your motivation. Keep positive but be realistic. Every evening, I write a list of my tasks for the following day. Means I get up knowing what I have to do. Usually that list comes from a quick look through the feature list, business list and bug list. I choose depending on where I’ll be, network connectivity and any sequence that needs to be adhered to.
Manage your energy levels. Know when you work best, under what conditions, in which environment, how much do you need, when can you work late and realistically catch-up on sleep, what’s your performance like the day after working late (is it worth it?)
Manage your time spent on product development versus time spent attending meetings versus time spent developing your business. It’s amazing how many meetings arise. How many are useful to you? Alternatively, how many would your presence be useful to?
Running a startup isn’t just product development, you have to develop your business and yourself as well.
Maintain focus. When you’ve decided on your MVP, make sure you do everything you can to release it. If you keep adding features to it and delaying the release, you’ll learn nothing about your market or your customers.
By the way, I’m four months in now, but I ended up sitting on this unfinished article while I launched the MVP. That’s prioritisation for you. So I’ve tidied it up and published. I’ll write the rest of the story another day.
I’d love you to answer some questions over at Besteno. Answering or sharing a few questions there would help me out.
It’s early days now, it’s been a fun and very challenging time. I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received and I’m trying to give some of that support back to the community through Founders’ Assembly and @mcrstartups.
In founding Besteno, I’ve had to use a lot of the skills I’ve used professionally in the past. It’s been a very interesting time being on the other side of the fence and I’m happy to have had the opportunity for that experience. What it taught me is that I’ve been doing it right all along (i.e. learning from mistakes, improving, learning and repeat). That’s a good lesson to learn.
Yesterday, I presented at #Leanconf 2013 in Manchester. It was the first Lean Conference covering Lean Startup in Europe. There was a great energy to the 2-day event with a variety of planned and unplanned talks plus lots of opportunity to network without the usual tradeshow conference feeling of being stalked by sales managers.
I don’t think I’ve seen a community spirit like that in a long time; every attendees helped someone else no matter how far along their own ideas were.
In the spirit of the energy that I encountered at the conference, I’ve placed the slides on slideshare. If you download the presentation, you can read the notes which will help you make more sense of the slides. Hopefully the video will be online as well soon. When it is available, I’ll update and post a link to it. The slides are at bottom of this article.
Background to the Programme
The programme I discussed in the presentation was a 2+year programme with a large city council in England. The programme was internal to the portfolio that handled Adult Social Care. It had a £1m+ budget with a team ranging from programme manager, business analysts, data analysts and communications officer, plus a governance structure and other associated stakeholders.
The aim was to make Adult Social Care more efficient, by removing waste, focussing on flow and reorganising around the value to the customer. All typical lean concepts. We did this with a mixed method that I’d developed specifically for this client. The method merged elements of Lean with Lean Startup with DSDM and Theory of Constraints, all under a typical local authority governance framework using Prince 2.
The scale of change was to alter the way of working of 200-300 social workers/care managers, their team managers, their business support plus associated teams. Most were involved in the change and took the opportunity to steer the change in ways that would benefit their service users. Additionally partner teams (e.g. those responsible for 1000+ support workers within the council, NHS staff, payments and contact centre staff) were brought into the process and contributed to the changes where possible.
Customer Development in Social Care
Due to the time available for the talk, I didn’t discuss Customer Development. I’d like to address that here. Firstly, my customers and those of the programme, were the workers on the frontline of social care. However, we also had a duty to their customers, i.e. the service users of the city and, wider still, the overall population of the city.
We used common Lean and Six Sigma techniques (e.g. Kaizenblitz, Voice of the Customer, Gemba plus interviews, workshops, etc) for understanding the wishes and activities of the frontline workers. The default position was always to go and visit the workers where they worked including a visit out to service users where possible and where permitted. There was no “ivory tower” mentality and as little desk-based research as possible.
I did want to get to the wishes of the end user, i.e. getting the answers to what mattered to the service users. We were able to do this through a service user forum and similar activities. Just to clarify, the forum is actually a real meeting, not an online forum. However the typical customer-development approach of “get out of the building” isn’t necessarily a good idea in this case. The reason is that any change has to be ethically sound; it can’t introduce discrimination nor can experiments (or MVPs from Lean Startup) that make the situation worse for those on that trial path.
The ethical dilemma is exacerbated further when you consider the concept of equitability in that any change has to be able to be applied to the entire population of service users if appropriate to them. So if you make a change to services in October, you’d better think about how you’re retrospectively going to apply those changes to service users referred back in April onwards. That could be as simple as a rule stating that they’d change at the next review point or it could be a specific project to apply it now.
A good example of the fundamental ethical issue can be found in the simple concept of asking customers “what can we do to improve?”
I love that question; it encapsulates the whole point of speaking to customers about what they want without biasing them towards a particular solution. It usually turns any negatives about current experiences into positive actions for change.
However, frontline staff wouldn’t want to ask that question of their service users in all circumstances, e.g. those with a current likelihood of being violent, those recently bereaved or in any situation where the service user or social worker is likely to come to harm. That means that the results from a survey of such a basic question would already be biased.
Similar nuances were found in almost every typical method for achieving customer development, whether phone surveys, online questionnaires, paper-questionnaires, focus-groups, questions tagged onto the end of a visit, etc.
Now, as mentioned in the slides, greenfield opportunities such as those found in newly-commissioned projects whether within local authorities or within NHS CCGs (Client Commissioning Groups) are ripe for Lean Startup and may benefit from a more thorough application of Customer Development.
What Messages Can you Take Away from the Presentation?
That you can successfully apply Lean Startup in the public sector
That if you can do it in local authority (which is about the worst-case scenario for successful implementations), then it should be implementable in other large, existing organisations, whether private or public.
That you may not benefit from applying all of Lean Startup; the corollary is true in that you can benefit from using some elements of Lean Startup. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish.
That the behaviour of staff (inherited from the culture of the organisation) will likely be your biggest obstacle.
Some of you may already know, I’m in the process of writing a book on improving your own service.
I’m aiming the book at the people who work the process themselves, e.g.:
and their managers
and change agents/analysts
As you can see, it’s not restricted to any industry, but will be most relevant to those working in service industries (whether from private, public and 3rd sector), so that should include:
More accurately, the information in the book could be useful for any industry, however there already exist books for improving manufacturing production processes, so I have not covered them.
What’s the book about?
The focus is on improving a service without recourse to large consultancy fees and should work well on small changes locally within a team and managed changes with partner teams and organisations (e.g. suppliers and B2B clients). It’s heavily based on Lean concepts, using simple tools, but also includes a framework in which to manage the changes. I’ve borrowed from a number of methodologies and concepts to meld together a method that is suitable for the average worker and implementable in any service team.
While I’m happy to write this book alone and for everyone to read, I really like the idea of the readers contributing their thoughts as I write it. This fits nicely with the Lean Startup model, so to accomplish this, I’ve listed the current table of contents below. Please have a read through the table of contents and let me know what you think. If you’re interested in this book, let me know what you want to learn from it.
Draft Table of Contents
Section I: Beginning
3 Where to Start? Section II: Redesign
4 How to Redesign the Service
5 Detailed steps for How to Redesign a Service Section III: Other Paths
6 Refocus service on customer
7 Only have today to make changes
8 Bottleneck Resolution
9 Reduce errors and improve service
10 Create a new service
11 Improve office layout Section IV: Case Studies
12 A Real World Example: Capacity and Value Stream Owner
13 A Real World Example: Duty Role in Social Care
14 A Real World Example: Urgent Cases in Social Care Section V: Extensions
15 Other sorting methods
16 Making it Happen
17 Managing the Change Section VI: Continuing
18 Sustaining Change Section VII: Reflections
19 Important Perspectives
20 Other Frameworks
21 A final piece of advice Section VIII: Appendices
22 Appendix A: The Rules
23 Appendix B – Pocket Guide for Service Redesign
24 Appendix C – Indicators of Blocked Flow and Waste
25 Appendix D: Tools
26 Appendix E: References
I’ve previously discussed the inclusion of a dormant state and a return loop when reflecting on the fact that the Customer Journey Never Ends.
You can include a further extension of the customer journey maps by showing proximity or emotional state.
Focus on the Emotional State
Typical customer journey maps (or diagrams) depict activities and results, maybe important events as well. These commonly use the terminology of the organisation rather the customer. By shifting that focus onto how engaged the customer feels at each stage, we see the journey from a different perspective; that of the customer.
Companies often use a sales funnel to monitor their sales process. Analysing the performance against the states in the sales funnels allows a company to redesign its sales process or to develop additional collateral. Some of the funnels focus on emotional state mixed with likelihood of buying. The customer journey map that displays emotional states can fit very well with the states defined in sales funnels. For example, the tables at the end of the superb Lean Entrepreneur book take the reader through the different levels of engagement that a customer experiences as they progress through the sales funnel:
Extend the States
These funnel states would need to be extended to include less positive states commonly found as customers move away from your organisation, e.g.:
There may be more states, but that will depend on your customers and what you understand about them.
How Can You Do This?
Compile a complete list of emotional states for your customers
Filter this list to create a simple, single list that reflects the combined understanding from marketing, sales and service/retention departments
Develop the customer journey maps
Take the list of states and apply them as an overlay to your existing customer journey maps or
Take the list of states and create a new customer journey map
My preference would be to start afresh as thinking based on the emotional state is likely to produce a different picture of the journey than the model based on activities and results.
You may have noticed that I didn’t include asking the customer for their emotional state. I nearly always advocate gaining input from customers in the most appropriate manner. I only omitted it above for the fact that it’s often a step too far for a lot of organisations. However, if your organisation has the means to engage with customers at the right level, then collate the emotional content from your customers and use that to build your customer journey map.
I’m reminded of the phrase “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. Similarly, as soon as an organisation starts a relationship with a customer, they’re stuck with that relationship. Many organisations design customer journeys but think from their own perspective rather than that of the customer. That’s a mistake but one that can be simply rectified.
An exchange between customer and company lasts longer than the original transaction. For instance, if a customer buys a product, has a fault, then has to return it. That’s one set of interactions all about the one transaction. The fact that it can last longer is nothing new, what has changed is the proximity of the customer and company. Now, the customer can submit a complaint online, they can spread the word via social media or they can ask for assistance on an online forum. This makes the customer and company a lot closer than before. The implication is that even if the customer has stopped buying from you and now buys elsewhere, their opinion will count forever.
Even though the customer has finished their exchange with your organisation, they are a still a person with memories and experiences. When they next come to buy, will they use your company or another?
Additional Customer Journey States
A further implication is in how we can design customer journeys to be more comprehensive and reflective of what actually happens. A depiction of the overall customer journey should include a state where the relationship is dormant and a loop for repeat custom (whether repeat of the original purchase or of a new product). The journey could be extended further still to show some of the customers leaving your company, probably from that dormant state and buying from a competitor. Some of these will return, some not, but all of their opinions will count.
Hopefully these two ideas will help you handle the fact that the customer journey never ends, at least from the customer’s perspective.
I’m often talking business strategy and how it can apply to any business no matter how new or how small. Strategy should be applied to every business but it’s a shame that the closest many business owners get to it is a business plan for a bank loan. This is even worse when they may have need a lesser amount or even avoided the loan completely had they planned differently.
What I’ll Cover about Business Strategy
I can think of a few TV series where one of the characters set up a restaurant or a cupcake business. There’s something about that concept that must correlate with our desires. I see many new cake businesses, I know several people who have all separately and independently started into cake-making businesses. So based on that comes the new series of articles.
I’m going to review the current state of business strategy thinking and apply it to a hypothetical cupcake-making business. It’s a free series of articles and the majority of the lessons should be applicable to other industries. I’ve chosen cupcake-making because of its popularity and the ease of understanding.
Whether we want the job or not, it’s easy to put ourselves in the position of cupcake business owner. In its simplest form, we all know that you have to buy baking products, mix them according to a recipe, put them in an oven, remove them when cooked and sell the cakes. Over the series of articles, we’ll see how that simple concept could translate into a cupcake-making business.
What You’ll Learn about Business Strategy
How business strategy can be applied to small businesses, especially new and start-up small businesses.
What tools you can use to evaluate and validate your business ideas
What tools can help you to steer your business in a different direction
Some insight into how this can be applied to larger organisations and companies
Most importantly, you’ll be in a position to learn:
How to think analytically about your business idea and be more informed about the decisions you’ll make
Do you have a strategic idea that you’d like to see considered in this series, let me know. Either sign-up to the newsletter and ask there or contact me.
Cialdini’s book on Persuasion is a great introduction to the forces applied on us by others to convince us to change our ways, e.g. buy their product. I see the ideas implemented the more and more I look. Often I think people have stumbled on the ideas, other times I feel that the interaction has been designed that way. When they’re designed in a transparent and above-board manner, then the interaction is a thing of beauty to behold. The following interaction displays the 3 principles of commitment and consistency (that’s one principle), reciprocity and social proof.
I visited the RNLI station in Blackpool a week ago and found an activity station of great interest. It featured 3 boxes each with a title. The twist on these normal community-involvement voting boxes was that instead of a passive vote where the company (e.g. Waitrose) donates money to the charity based on the number of tokens in the boxes, these boxes were all about what the voter would do, e.g. donate money or volunteer time. Although the vote upstairs only required picking up a token and then placing it in a box, it starts the commitment process.
Downstairs is where the consistency part of commitment and consistency principle comes into play. To keep your actions and your statements (i.e. having said you’ll donate when you were upstairs) coherent, then you’ll feel more compelled to donate when you’re downstairs. There’s no coercion here, it’s helping people follow through on what they’ve said they will do.
The reciprocity principle came into play upstairs. You were provided with a token and free entertainment. Naturally, you feel you want to return the favour by contributing something of value.
The social proof principle comes into play when there is a group of visitors. The more that place tokens in the boxes, the more will follow and do the same. Imagine a coach-load of tourists passing through the RNLI station and effect that they’ll have on each other.
Overall, it was a great example of how to use the principles properly.
So we’ve covered 3 principles and I hope you’ve learned something about how these principles can be employed in an ethical manner.
If you want to show your thanks, then donate to the RNLI. The RNLI station at Blackpool is well worth visiting for the experience if you want to donate in person.
I really believe in getting customer input, especially before you build you product or service. Lean Six Sigma includes the concept as part of Voice of Customer, Lean Startup and similar methods include the concept within Customer Development. If you work for an existing organisation that currently delivers products/services rather than a start-up, sometimes it’s easier to actually be your customer than to gather their input.
Many companies try to get closer to customer needs by using mystery shoppers. Again, depending on your product this avenue may not be necessary.
I’ve been reminded of this many times when I see a process that just doesn’t make sense for the customer, but looks like it would have made sense for the person working in the office who created the process. I’ll discuss three examples below:
I was driving back from Llandudno on the A55 and a roadside sign flashed a message of “Incident after junction 32”. These IP-enabled roadsigns are a common sight on most of Britain’s motorways allowing staff to remotely update the message on the sign. But this sign was odd for two reasons. First, it was an A-road so to provide a junction number on the warning signs rather than a destination is not that common a sight. This made me wonder whether the message referred to the road I was driving on now or a road that we would intersect with, e.g. M56 or M6. This was compounded by the second oddity; there were no junction numbers on the static road signs nor on my car’s satnav/GPS. I was left confused by a message that may have a large bearing on my journey or none at all. To this day, I still don’t know where the incident was, I was fortunate enough to have an incident-free journey on my route home.
I worked for a good ICT company almost two decades ago and another one a few years later. In between, I worked for a large consultancy. Both of the ICT companies were moving into the consultancy arena with more mobile staff taking on more business change and less pure ICT activities. As an employee, I found the treatment of mobile staff to be very different between the ICT companies and the consultancy. The policies – such as how much could be spent on hotels, time before you could claim for certain types of expenses, what time the head-office closed in case you were in another country needing assistance to get home – were all written by HR staff from headquarters in both the ICT companies. That made for some interesting events where there were no hotels available (not just a question of standards) for some meetings or no-one to help out when the hire car’s broken down and it’s better for everyone (especially your corporate client) if you change plans. In contrast, the policies at the consultancy were written by consultants who travelled and operated by HR. That made for a much more reliable service, one that gave the mobile staff much better support while travelling.
Local authorities in England inherit the duty to maintain local roads. That involves the scheduling of roadworks and should involve working with national agencies so that motorway roadworks don’t cascade into the local road network. I can think of at least two towns that have had concurrent roadworks on every route out of town, adding 1 or 2 hours to journeys each way. No doubt some of the council officials were involved but probably hadn’t thought of themselves as customers of their own service.
Be The Customer
Both companies could do with thinking about their customers and trying to use the service as a customer would. I think of two actions when I think of being the customer:
Actively take time out of your product development to go and experience what it’s like as a customer. So go and drive on the road a few times a year and watch what messages, signs are being given, what the spacing of roadworks are.
Engage your staff to think like customers as they go about their days and then to inform the teams responsible of what they find.
In the case of the the road sign, the HR policies and possibly the roadworks, the events were initiated by people in the office. All of these could have been improved by being the customer. I saw the difference with the HR policies, it was a much more comfortable experience recognising that as a mobile employee, you were often away from home and family. The issue with roadworks is probably more one of common sense, rather than being a customer. Why block every main artery and some of the minor ones? The act of being a customer creates a better mindset, by forcing you to think in more basic terms. It’s not about the difficulties in the office, takt time or production control, it’s about what you experience as a customer. I’m pretty sure that Traffic Wales would have had the equivalent of England’s Highways Agency Officers driving up and down the A55. Unfortunately, having them think what it’s like being a customer may not have helped too much since they would have to unlearn what they know as part of the job, e.g. abbreviations, road junction numbers, etc. In their case, they’d still have staff who are less integrated to the operation, e.g. new starters, who could be asked to act as the customer on their way to work and back.
In short, this is a variation on the typical lean battle cry of Gemba, “go to where the work is”. In addition, Be The Customer.