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.
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’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.
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.
Starting this week, I’ll be answering your questions on Lean and Lean Startup and how they can be applied to the public sector. I’ll also answer questions on wider subjects of business transformation and change management, although I expect most will relate to Lean in public sector and/or Lean Startup in existing organisations.
I’m assuming that any questions you ask me are public and can be posted on this site and publicly responded to. If you need a private response, let me know in the question and I’ll treat it so.
The idea behind this is to share some of my experiences, e.g. how I’ve overcome some of the typical obstacles to change or what to expect when transforming a public sector operation.
You can keep up-to-date with the questions and my answers by subscribing to the newsletter in the simple form below. Take the opportunity to ask a question in the form.
There’s a lot of hype around Lean Startup for at least the last year. The positive thing is that much of this hype is well-deserved; the concepts have changed the thinking of a lot of its readers. Having a foot in both camps as a lean practitioner improving services and organisations and as an entrepreneur roughly adhering to the Lean Startup method, I think it’s important that we are all clear on the difference between the concept of the lean startup method and lean organisation.
I like a lot of the concepts in The Lean Startup written by Eric Ries. However, from viewing social media conversations and articles, it appears that a lot of readers are confused as to what the focus is. It’s not about about creating a lean organisation (i.e. an organisation that operates in a lean manner). Instead it concerns creating an organisation in a lean manner, using a methodology analogous to Lean, itself largely based on TPS (Toyota Production System). The book doesn’t reflect how the organisation will operate. Fortunately, you would expect an organisation that was built using lean methods to have a better change of being lean itself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily follow.
Now, enter The Lean Entrepreneur by Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits which is just going through pre-release. From the table of contents, this book does appear to discuss creating an organisation that will operate in a lean manner. While this is something that I would tend to do naturally, I look forward to reading the book and understanding how other people would approach the same challenge.