To misquote Helmuth von Moltke the Elder:
No project survives contact with the customer
To misquote Helmuth von Moltke the Elder:
No project survives contact with the customer
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.
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.
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.
I’d like to hear your comments, so leave a comment below or contact me
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.:
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
To be able to fix the problem, you first need to know what the problem is.
More specifically, you need to know which problem to fix first.
Your staff may already be telling you what the problem is, you may already know what it is, but what if that’s not the most important problem and the underlying problem is something else entirely?
That’s where using an external consultancy can prove valuable. We’re impartial, unencumbered by politics, with no axes to grind and passionate about uncovering the real underlying causes.
Uncovering your real problems and the causes of what’s troubling your department is the first step in improvement. It’s a ring-fenced engagement with a clear gateway meaning we’ll agree what work is to be performed before we commence to following stages, if at all.
Want to know more, then contact us for more detail.