We’re all talking about strategy. Digital strategy, cloud strategy, machine learning strategy, agile development strategy and on and on. Yet, I’ve seen very little discussion about process. I know, I know – as soon as you mention the word process eyes roll and minds wander, but the truth is you won’t get anywhere without it.
I like the W. Edwards Deming quote, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.” I would expand that to add that a process WILL be implemented. Once you have a system, you have a process, but is it the right one? It’s not enough to say we need a new CRM system when you really mean you need a new CRM strategy.
Executives are in the unique position to be able to bring together all the pieces of the business required to turn business strategies into effective processes. IT can’t do that alone and throwing a requirement over the wall to IT is abdicating responsibility for strategy and process that should clearly rest with the executive suite. Once a strategy is defined with metrics and KPIs, then you need to define the process that gets you there. And that takes collaboration.
Get Close to Those Closest to the Customer
Optimizing a business process to execute business strategy takes collaboration from the customer to the corner office. The executive suite can ensure that the right people are in the room, but then it’s time for analysis. Not analysis of how much computing power or storage or which cloud solution is right, but analysis of what it takes to get the job done. This is all about asking why. Starting at the customer:
• Understand the customer – We’re all customers, we should understand. Why do and don’t customers come to you? Why do they leave? What is difficult? Why? What is frustrating? Why?
• Understand the obvious challenges – What isn’t working? Why? Everyone has complaints about systems and processes. Sit with the people doing the work to find the most glaring flaws that are affecting customer experience and business metrics.
• Understand the work arounds – People closest to the customers do their jobs in spite of the systems. Until you get out in the field you won’t uncover why they work around the systems and you won’t be able to fix it.
• Optimize the process – Use the research to eliminate obstacles, simplify workflows, add intelligence and automation where it’s useful and always allow customers and users an easy path to support.
• Define use cases – Apply typical use cases to your new optimized process. Act like a customer and let employees do their jobs. Where does the process falter, what workarounds are obvious? Continuously make adjustments.
• Define system requirements – Now you can fully engage IT and start talking about systems. What are the core, “no compromise” requirements? What are the nice-to-haves or features that can be added later? Evaluate and trial solutions, changes and upgrades to make sure the systems will behave the way the business wants them to and if a vendor can’t deliver – they lose.
Any system or solution-as-a-service mandates specific behaviors from the business. Sometimes those behaviors fit your process, oftentimes they don’t. Business strategies don’t become system strategies unless the business makes the extra effort to bring together those closest to the customer to optimize the process and determine the best way to execute it. And you can’t get there sitting a conference room.