Where Do I Learn? – Part 2 – Books

Books

If I’m driving, I’m listening to podcasts. If I’m travelling by train, then I’m reading.

I typically read books that don’t directly relate to my profession, but those that I hope will change my approach to how I work with clients.

For every client I go to, I end up mentoring business analysts, business architects, programme manager, project managers and other change programme staff. So I’ve kept a list of references (not just books) on Evernote and I tailor it to the person I’m mentoring at that time.

Here’s the list of books that I recommend:

1. Lean

Production Line
Production Line

1.1. Womack and Jones: Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation

This is the book I recommend to anyone trying to understand lean for changing services and organisations. However, once you understand, you’ll start applying it to other areas of your life. There’s a lot of argument in the field about whether this is really Lean, TPS or some other methodology. At this stage, if it’s your first introduction to field, this is a great book to start with. You won’t be an expert by the end of it, but at least you’ll understand more and be able to understand some of the differences in the arguments.

1.2. Womack and Jones: Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Value and Wealth Together

The 3rd book in the series by Womack and Jones. Most useful for service industries and how to value the time of the customer more. Sometimes this is the book that makes the reader sit up and go “I get it now”, especially if they’re working in health or social care.

1.3. Womack, Jones and Roos: The Machine That Changed the World

The first book in the series. It’s the book that introduced the term Lean to the world (although the term had been in minor use before that). It’s useful if you’re interested in the history and how automobile manufacture has changed. If reading, get a later edition due the updates. The world has moved on since it was written, so usually I’d say it’s only worth reading if you’re interested in the subject and want to read about the case studies. But there’s an element of learning about some of the issues faced by companies as they implement lean for the first time.

2. Lean – More Advanced

Production
Production

2.1. David Mann: Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversion

This book is useful since it covers a lot of ground that is missing from the Womack and Jones books; mainly that there has to be a culture to make it happen and foster the long-term improvement. So David focusses on the role of the manager and what they need to do.

2.2. The Lean Toolbox for Service Systems

Probably the driest book in this list, it’s worth persevering with. There are some gems of ideas in there. I tend to offer it more as a reference to analysts to pick and choose from, rather than read the whole book. Note that I don’t pay that much attention to the process part of the book; but the principles are still sound in that we should choose different methods and tools at different levels of granularity and purpose.

2.3 Michael L. George: The Lean Six Sigma Pocket Toolbook

Nicely summed up by it’s streamline: “A Quick Reference Guide to 70 Tools for Improving Quality and Speed”. It’s a small book with each tool described, how to use and when to use it. Useful to have at arms-length when checking which calculations should be used, especially if you’re not conducting them every day.

2.4. Toyota Kata – Mike Rother

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Toyota-Kata-Managing-Improvement-Adaptiveness/dp/0071635238/

One of my favourite books in this list. This includes tales and case studies highlighting the real root of TPS, in terms of how mentoring and problem solving are achieved and how they are intertwined. This is a necessary complement if you’ve started out with Womack and Jones.

2.5. Lean Enterprise – Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky & Barry O’Reilly

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lean-Enterprise-Performance-Organizations-Innovate/dp/1449368425

An interesting book that takes learning from Toyota Kata + Cost of Delay + agile and continual improvement on an enterprise scale. It provides a way for structuring your business from a prioritisation, problem solving and personal development perspective. I’d suggest starting with Toyota Kata first and then reading this one.

3. Influence and Sales

3.1 Robert Cialdini: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Out of all the books I recommend to anyone I’m mentoring, this is usually at the top of the list. Partly so that we can talk about the same concepts and understand how we’re being influenced (and how we can influence others). It doesn’t matter if you don’t use it at work, you’ll find a use for it when buying your next car, watching how supermarket designers manipulate your thinking, etc. Even in the RNLI station/shop in Blackpool, I noticed 3 of the principles being used on one display stand.

3.2. Robert Jolles – Customer Centered Selling

This is easily the best book on selling that I’ve ever read. He describes a process, and while we’re all human and don’t follow always follow processes, it’s really useful to know what’s expected at what stage and what’s missing if you’ve jumped straight in.
There are a few editions of this; all out of print, but some are more available than others. And check eBay and Amazon used.

3.3. Chris Voss – Never Split the Difference

Chris’ book is close to the top of my list for books to recommend to business architects and business analysts. There’s little point doing a great job from your professional domain if you can’t influence others to accept your way of thinking. That’s not to say that you should manipulate others, instead it’s to give your work a fair chance of being heard and an opportunity to be adopted.

3.4. Roger Fisher: Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in

Based on the Harvard model of negotiation, including Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement. It concentrates on creating the framework first before discussing points. So agree how you’re going to agree before you start talking the specifics of the deals.

3.5. Dan Roam: Back of the Napkin: Solving problems and selling ideas with pictures

Can’t draw, have difficulty communicating ideas? Then have a look at this book for understanding the simplest type of diagram to draw for any situation. It’s here on this list because many of the pivotal moments when you’re describing your ideas can be accelerated by use of the appropriate diagram. Pay particular attention to the SQVID.

3.5. Joe Navarro – What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People

The best book I’ve read on non-verbal communication and body language. There’s a simple theme running throughout the book; you can’t tell what someone is thinking, but you can tell if there’s a disconnect between their non-verbal communication and their communication.

4. Education

4.1. Josh Kaufman: The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education in a Single Volume

I’m often mentoring change professionals who, while they may be great at their chosen profession, don’t understand accounting practices or how decisions are made. So I direct them to these two books. This is the shorter one; quicker to read and digest.

4.2. Steven Silbiger: The 10-day MBA: A step-by-step guide to mastering the skills taught in top business schools

The second of the two general business books I recommend. This has more detail than the Personal MBA but also may require guidance due to the complexity.

5. Entrepreneurship/Innovation

innovation
innovation

5.1. Eric Ries: The Lean Startup: How constant innovation creates radically successful business

I find that this book can change the reader’s approach to large-scale programmes. It makes them think more about incremental change based experiments. I also find that I still have to remind mentees about the purpose of experiments, i.e. to validate learning. But if they’ve read the book, it’s absorbed easier with that gentle nudge.

5.2. The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company – Steve Blank and Bob Dorf

Kindle is usually significantly cheaper than the paperback/hardback.
The Startup Owner’s Manual deserves more fame than it has. It’s unfortunate that it’s been somewhat eclipsed by the Lean Startup, since it has significantly more usable material in it. That hightlights the differences; the Lean Startup is a book that promotes the culture and activities, whereas the Startup Owner’s Manual is a guide to the activities that you have to follow. Admittedly, it can be a bit daunting to read at first, since it comes across more as a reference guide that you can dip in and out of. This is the book to read to understand the concept of Customer Development.

5.3. The Lean Entrepreneur: How Visionaries Create Products, Innovate with New Ventures, and Disrupt Markets

If I know you’re an entrepreneur or a startup founder, then I recommend this book above all else. It takes the learnings from a lot of other sources and puts them into one practical book. So expect to see references to the Lean Startup, Customer Development and Business Model Canvas as well as tables that you use to record and plan your own progress.
Pay attention to the reverse planning process; it’s important to know where you want to get to and then work back from there.

5.4. Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers

Alex Osterwalder has started a movement and initiated a number of more domain-specific spinoffs. If you have a problem you can probably find a canvas for it now. This is the book that brought canvases to us, taking a simplistic view of business architecture and making it accessible to all.

5.5. The Mom Test – Rob Fitzpatrick

A short book, but it doesn’t miss anything out. If you’re conducting user/customer interviews, you should read this book first. Ideal for users researchers in service design/design thinking and for startup founders. Don’t be fooled into believing what your customers say; they have other motives, so it takes a different approach to obtain the information you require.

6. Business Strategy

Chess
Chess

6.1. Richard Rumelt – Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The difference and why it matters

This includes so many case studies regarding how to set strategy. It’s a fascinating read. Main point to take away is that a good strategy includes 3 parts:
  1. An analysis of the current situation
  2. A vision of the future
  3. A plan to achieve that vision

6.2. Michael E. Gerber: E-myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

At the other end of the scale from Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, Michael discusses small business strategy by using a small bakery as a example throughout the book. It does focus on franchising as a solution in the second half. It’s a useful book for small business owners, helping them think about the processes and systems they need to have in place.

7. Change

Butterfly
Butterfly

7.1. Richard Wiseman – 59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot

Change yourself in less than a minute. That’s the main concept behind the book. Richard takes us through a journey, referencing many studies across the last few decades and how we can learn from them to influence our own lives.

7.2. Richard Wiseman – Rip It Up: Forget positive thinking, it’s time for positive action

The follow-up to 59 seconds. It’s actually the more practical book out of the two, but it makes sense to read 59 seconds first.

8. Facilitation

Session
Session

8.1.Understanding Facilitation – Christine Hogan

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Understanding-Facilitation-Theory-Principles-Principle/dp/0749438266

Christine covers a lot of ground in this book. She educates about the history of facilitation, different forms of it and how it has progressed. This is a must-read for facilitators.

8.2. Practical Facilitation – Christine Hogan

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Practical-Facilitation-Techniques-Christine-HOGAN/dp/0749438274

In the second book I recommend from Christine Hogan, she introduces tools and techniques for facilitating. This is a good read and worth keeping to hand as a reference guide when you’re starting out in your facilitation experience.

8.3. Sue Knight : NLP At Work

I wondered whether to include this since I don’t actually believe in NLP. There just wasn’t enough scientific evidence at the time I looked into it to prove it worked. However there have been times with facilitators who have had difficulties with some of their customers that I’ve recommended certain parts of this book. Critically, the concept of reframing has helped numerous analysts continue working with customers rather than going home stressed at the end of the day. It’s helped them realise where the problem could lie and, more importantly, that it doesn’t lie with any of the people.

Be a Startup, not a Zombie

Zombie Hands
Zombie Hands
Zombie Hands

I’m just catching up on an episode of The Salesman Podcast hosted by Will Barron. The episode is about being the first sales person in a new company.

While I agree with everything Vinnie has said, one thing came to mind. If you’re the first salesperson and you’re conducting product-market fit conversations, then you’re working for a zombie, not a startup; it’s dead, but doesn’t know it.

I can’t think of a more suitable activity for the founders before hiring anyone than to conduct those conversations themselves. The only exception I can think of is where the founders have zero business sense (think of the traditional, out-dated view of scientists) and need to hire to make a business.

Think back to Steve Blank’s Customer Development concepts and subsequently, Eric Ries’ Lean Startup, checking whether the market wants your concept and whether the product you have in mind fits that market need are two fundamental tasks to complete before you build the product or first iteration of the product.

 

 

 

 

 

How the Lean Canvas Promotes the Sharing of Innovation Ideas

Lean Canvas

I had the great opportunity to see how different organisations approach short-scale corporate innovation, at the NWG Festival of Innovation (#NWGInnovationFestival) earlier this month.

The Festival was set-up to resemble a summer festival, complete with the action happening in temporary tents around the racecourse. There were several different design sprints each in their own tent section, each tackling a different theme.

The Challenge

Walking through the different sprint rooms, it took time to understand what problem was being solved, how the team were approaching the solution and what was being designed. This took longer for some of the sprints than for others.

Lean Canvas
Lean Canvas

In one particular group, understanding what the teams were doing was an amazingly easy and quick task. Stepping back, I noticed that each of the teams in that sprint room were using the same tool and they were using it the same way (which is a good sign of consistent multi-group facilitation).

The Lean Canvas

The tool they were using is a simple one, based on the Business Model Canvas. Ash Maurya created the Lean Canvas which has some of the same elements but some different elements for use when creating new propositions, by focussing on the customer and their problem.

Having used the canvas in action before, it was an eye-opener to see how easy it was to understand from the outside, i.e. from someone that hadn’t been part of that sprint. That’s part of the value of any of the canvases and one of the primary reasons I use them with my clients. However, it was a pleasant experience to realise how easy it was to understand when I was on the other side of the fence.

Conclusion

No matter what changes you’re promoting within your organisation or sharing with others, consider the most appropriate tool for the job. The value of the tool you choose is not just how it promotes the progress of your team’s work but also how it promotes the sharing of that progress and the associated concepts.

Service Improvement Book – In Progress

Lean Service Improvement Book

After a year or so working with a large, complex client and some time before that working on a startup, I’m back to writing the book I started a couple of years ago.

Three good things have come from this break:

  1. Both of the experiences have confirmed that the book needs to be written. What I have seen in the last two years has proven to me that there is a gap and this book will fill that gap
  2. Both of the experiences have provided more evidence about which tools and techniques work well
  3. From a personal perspective, the break has given me more motivation to complete the book

I expect to be publishing in 2016.

What value do you place on your support networks?

Introduction

BestenoLogo
BestenoLogo

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.

Value

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.

Applying Lean Startup in the Public Sector

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.

Pivoting as used in Lean Startup in Public Sector
Pivoting as used in Lean Startup in Public Sector

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.

The Slides

 

Any Thoughts

I’d like to hear your comments, so leave a comment below or contact me

 

Forthcoming Book on Improving Your Own Service

Lean Service Improvement Book

Some of you may already know, I’m in the process of writing a book on improving your own service.

Lean Service Improvement Book
write by followtheseinstructions under CC BY-SA 2.0

I’m aiming the book at the people who work the process themselves, e.g.:

  • nurses
  • social workers
  • claims adjusters
  • HR/OD staff
  • office managers
  • office administrators
  • hotel staff
  • 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:

  • public sector
  • health
  • finance
  • retail
  • leisure
  • legal

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.

Your Input

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
1    Introduction
2    Background
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
27    Quotes

The Customer Journey Never Ends

Signs by I Am Fry under by-nd 2.0

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.

Customer Journey Never Ends
Signs by I Am Fry under by-nd 2.0

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.

The Cupcake Strategy – Business Strategy for a Startup Business

Cupcake by zigazou75 CC-by-2.0

Introduction

Cupcake by zigazou75 CC-by-2.0
Cupcake by zigazou75 CC-by-2.0

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

Questions

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.

Be The Customer

Be The Customer

Introduction

Be The Customer
Be The Customer

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.

Examples

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:

Traffic Wales

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.

HR department

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 Roads

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.