Optimize the Whole

When we think in parts, we improve in parts. Most of the business improvement is the game of ‘sub-optimization’. You optimize pieces without looking at the whole.

When a customer reports problem with your software, you do an incidental root cause analysis and address the code quality problem. You deploy tools, introduce new processes, measure constantly and yet – a few months later, you encounter a similar problem.

But when you look at the whole system, you might figure out that the real root cause is in something which is immeasurable yet important – may be, collaboration with other teams or how you sell. May be, inefficiencies rooted in how you support your customers after product is delivered.

We optimize the silos and the whole misses our radar. If ‘customer centricity’ is one of your key values, you should consider optimizing the whole customer journey with your organization – not just your development processes.

Often, we also optimize that which is measured. If your metrics are narrow, you will never be able to focus on systemic metrics that may really help your business and the customer.

Here are a few important things to consider when you optimize the whole:

We need to cultivate “a discipline to see the wholes, a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than snapshots

  • Focus on Value Stream. Value for customer is created in a series of interactions between various processes that starts right from first contact with the customer. Value stream mapping is a lean tool to identify a series of events right from conception to delivery of product or service.
  • Define what “complete” system means. Too often, we think of complete product as a set of completed features. For customers though, complete product is an experience they receive through each interaction with the organization. It helps to define what ‘complete’ means.
  • Measure Right. When you have narrow functional metrics, people in each function will work  hard to achieve their goals and yet, organization will not realize benefits of having such metrics. However, if you have more systemic metrics (and rewards) where people win only when the system wins, it aligns everyone to the same set of goals to ensure that ultimately, customer wins too.

Sub-optimization in organizations is a thinking problem. When you fail to see the whole, you undermine your capabilities as an organization.

And this may be the precise thing that holds you back from delivering a superior performance to your customers.

Implicit Customer Expectations: Are You Addressing Those?

Customers don’t always specify everything they want. Truth is, not everything can be specified.

Lets say, you go to a restaurant and order a sandwich. You specify the type of bread, filling preferences, sauces etc. That’s what you want and it can be specified explicitly. But you also want the bread and veggies to be fresh. Preparation to be hygienic. Ambience to be nice. People to be courteous and so on. How often do you specify these expectations? It has to be that way.

These are implicit customer expectations and they are powerful. It starts with a decently working product but you deliver real value to customer when you address implicit expectations. Better yet, if you are able to create a new set of implicit expectations, you start leading the way. This not only delights the customer but creates a new standard for implicit expectations in your area of work. When you set new standards for implicit expectations, you move a customer from “experience” to “advocacy.”

Implicit expectations are slippery. Easy to overlook or ignore because they are unsaid and invisible. This is an area where you are likely to take shortcuts because RoI of addressing implicit expectations is not visible.

In your quest to deliver a working product fast (and cheap), do not forget that customer still expects you to address the intangible elements of product that are not specified but certainly expected.

If you want to deliver great value to your customers, you have to get your kitchen in order. That’s where real value is created.


Related Posts:

Quality: Setting Right Goals

Most improvement initiatives are heavily focused on internal goals – increasing productivity/efficiency, eliminating waste, reducing defects/costs and so on. Processes around these goals are written and implemented. People are trained, tools are implemented, energies are directed and everyone starts working hard to meet these goals. Some improvement is seen, some re-alignment is done and it seems to be working fine, till…the customer starts complaining again.

This happens often because of the “internal orientation” of goals. When you establish your processes, pay enough attention to what customers are looking for. Customer A may be looking for impeccable technical quality (features) of deliverable while Customer B may be very sensitive to the quality of communication. Customer C cares a lot about user-friendliness of the product while Customer D is looking for an overall quality of experience delivered. Each one of these customers carry a different perception of quality based on their specific business needs and experiences. The fact that these expectations are fluid and ever-changing adds to the challenge.

If processes are a way to meet business objectives, it pays to identify the right objectives that finely balance internal and customer oriented goals. Internal goals are about continuity of pursuit to remain efficient. External objectives ensure that organization remains absolutely focused on what customer perceives as “value” and ways to deliver that value. With this balance, the focus on customer needs and wants is as much as focus on tools, systems, internal learning and processes. These objectives (and its constant reinforcement) drive people to look for ways to ensure that system is flexible to handle variation in customer demands.

Bottom line:

When defining your processes, do not forget to include the customer. A lot of waste from your practices can be eliminated if you constantly focus on how those practices help you achieve internal and external business objectives.

Gentle Reminder: Don’t forget to focus on your internal customers – your people.

Related Posts at QAspire:

7 Steps For Customer Centric Process Improvement

Metrics: Are They Mapped With Your Business Objectives?

In Pursuit Of “Customer Delight”: Getting The Basics Right

A lot of companies have the phrase “delighting our customers” in their well-crafted mission statements and quality policies. I see “customer delight” as a cherry, with the cake being “solving their problems and meeting the expectations” – so when we say “cherry on top of the cake”, the cake has to be right. Customers don’t get delighted by cherries alone, or by cherries on wrong cakes.

Here is the thing. To be able to reach a state where you “delight” your customers, you have to first “know and meet” customer’s basic expectations consistently. That is the core of your business – the reason why your customers come to you. Your products/services have to first meet the basic criteria of delivering the value that client is seeking.

So when you think of delighting your customer, think of the basics first.

  • Does your product/service meet the core expectation of the customer? Does it solve their problems? To what extent?
  • Do you have a method to accurately identify customer’s real/unique expectations? Their unique context?
  • Do you have right set of processes, people and technology that will help you deliver up to customer’s expectations consistently?
  • What is missing and how can you scale up to ensure consistency of delivery? What are the gaps that need to be filled?

Once you have these basics right, your efforts and investment on delighting your customers through various innovative and inclusive programs will yield the right returns. Right cherry on the right kind of cake is a delightful combo! Isn’t it?

Customer’s loyalty and further, advocacy only comes when you know how to deliver the basics right. Merely trying to delight customers when your core offering does not solve their real problems is an effort in vain. It may only help you keep a customer for now, but not on a long run.

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