Don’t confuse your system with reality

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Improving our processes is hard work.  There’s a lot of research and thinking that goes into the exercise of getting better at what we do.  Add to that the complexities and politics of change management—especially if your organization is large and/or well-established—and it can be daunting for sure.  People spend careers refining their approach to Process Engineering, and quite frankly, if it’s being done right, there’s a lot of math involved.  And as any one of my cadets can tell you…math is hard.

One thing that (unnecessarily, in my opinion) makes it even more of a challenge is the wrong perspective.  I consider it unnecessary because it’s a human tendency, but not an inevitability, to see things from our own perspective and miss those of others.

A lot of clients run into this problem, and I recall one instance in particular when I was working with an Air Force unit to improve their processes.  They seemed hung up on ‘how it’s done’ rather than concentrating on what the end result needed was.  As I’ve said before, one of my favorite euphemisms in Lean Six Sigma is, ‘Use the tools…Don’t let the tools use you.’  As I was trying to work through the current-state process with them, I kept asking them to walk me through what needed to be done.  They kept referring to their tools.  “We need this piece of information to put into the program here…Then we copy this from here and paste it into that, over there”…etc.  I had to stop at one point and say, “Okay.  Just walk me through this next step and tell me what’s happening without saying the name of the tool.”  My intention was to move away from the transactional interactions they were having with the programs and tools they were using and instead concentrate on the ‘job to be done.’  Slowly they came to recognize that a lot of the steps in their process had more to do with their systems than with the desired end result.  Now, granted, there are plenty of hidden (and not so hidden) requirements in the military and government arenas that seem to make some steps superfluous, and we don’t want to forget about Chesterton.  But if you’re looking to improve a process, you should go through each step and ask yourself:  What benefit does this step bring to my Customer?  How does it improve progress toward our overall goal?

I’m reminded of that experience when I speak with clients who are trying to improve their processes with the goal of improving their CX.  And I’m surprised that, even those most dedicated to being Customer-centric can sometimes miss the mark here.  In a similar way to how we sometimes mistake our tools for our processes, we can also substitute our own experiences with our systems with those of our Customers.  It’s not something people like to hear, but guess what?  Your Customers don’t care if your processes are a pain in your neck.  Frankly, depending on your relationship with your Customer, from their perspective, that’s why you’re there in the first place!  Recall that easing your Customers’ burden is one of the Five Principles of CX…it’s your job to make your Customers’ lives easier.  Now, it’s inefficient if your processes include waste and extra effort to accomplish, even if the entirety of that extra work falls to you and your team instead of your Customers.  I’d never begrudge someone wanting to lean out the work he or she does daily.  But again, don’t confuse your own system with reality:  Do you prioritize what makes your own work inconvenient for you?  Or do you prioritize the parts of your system that make things more of a hassle for your Customers?

There was a process engineer who worked on my team a while back who used to get so irate when people in our organization mistook our hassle for that of our Customers.  He’d say, we need to take off our corporate hat and put on our Customer hat, and concentrate our efforts on reducing extra work for them…not us.  To be sure, the extra work that some of our inefficient processes cost us ends up leading to delays and struggle for our Customers (it kind of rolls downhill, doesn’t it?).  And when we improve our processes, it’s usually good for our Customers as well.  But as this team member of mine used to say, we often prioritized our improvements around what we found to be extra work without nearly enough (if any at all, in some instances) emphasis on how—or if—it impacted our Customers.  What we came to realize was that, when we prioritized those processes and systems that ended up causing our Customers grief, improving those, and streamlining the steps involved there, we inevitably made our own work easier for ourselves too.  It wasn’t as though we had to choose one or the other.  But the perspective and the prioritization do make a difference.

By concentrating first (or perhaps solely) on our own comfort and ease, we were missing the most important part of improving our processes in the first place:  How we can make it better for our Customers.

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