Rewiring the Company: How to Complete Customer Circuits


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I swear, some Gyro Gearloose out there has set the model for wiring up corporate office functions. From sales, marketing and service—to the deep, dark recesses of HR, accounting and procurement—process connecting wires traverse every which way, creating a complex maze of connections, misconnections and outright short circuits. And when the pace of work heats up, the whole mess usually blows up.

That’s the condition of office process in most companies. Take a manufacturing company with a huge sales and service contingent we worked with several years ago. Sales, customer service and manufacturing were triangulated. Nothing could move without all three pieces involved. And the triangle formed resembled that supposed ocean triangle off Florida and the Bahamas, where planes routinely (as the story goes) disappeared off radar, never to be seen again. That’s what happened to orders. Especially rush orders.

So how to you fix such a mess. Not to disappoint my Six Sigmy colleagues, but you don’t trace one wire at a time. You’ll still be tracing when the company goes under. Nope, you just grab the biggest ball of wire you can find and yank hard. Just rip it all out (at least in a design sense). Then you start redesigning from scratch—with adding customer value trumping all other process design goals.

In the aforementioned case, we needed less than half the wire we ripped out to complete a rational, customer-focused process schema. This company had so many checks and balances on everything that we inserted a slide into a senior management presentation saying: You guys are spending millions to save pennies. The COO posted it all over the executive suite. And we were able to design away spiders’ webs of non-productive work. In fact, this overall engagement proved yet again a very important principle of office process management: Over-employment is a principal contributor to office process inefficiency—and ineffectiveness, too.

Hey, at least they didn’t substitute office technology for office process. Their office technology was terrible. Which was a good thing, because at least they hadn’t invested buckets of bucks in automation technology enabling them to do the wrong stuff faster.

I realize that ripping out the old and replacing it with the new can be a scary proposition. But here are some tips for rewiring your company in a customer-centric manner.

  • Focus on workflow and information flow (how work and information move, rather than how individuals work).
  • Work in cross-functional teams. Unlike manufacturing work, office process is cross-functional by definition, and the majority of defects are in handoffs of work and information between functions (or between individuals within functions).
  • Map your existing flows. It may sound boring, but you’ll get lots of comic relief when you see all the stuff that’s been accepted without question for years, or decades. It may sound contradictory, too, considering my “rip it out” philosophy. However, proving how bad things are and how much process can be improved is often a prerequisite for driving change. And by staying up at the flow level, you can get through it quickly.
  • Use the “customer value” test. For every new flow you design, ask yourself, “Is this flow adding value to customers?” If not, try redesigning it.
  • Use automation to enable your new flows. Don’t ever let technology lead process—not unless you have absolutely no choice.
  • Wait with technology. Don’t spend a penny on new technology until you’ve redesigned everything—and then justify proposed technology against your flows.
  • Ban process-speak and symbology. Business owners need to lead office process redesign, and very few speak or read process gobbledygook. Neither does your CEO.
  • Never, ever redesign office process to cut costs. All you’ll do is trim a few wires (and people) here and a few there. Paradoxically, fundamentally redesigning process to add value to customers produces much greater efficiencies than trimming to cut costs.

If you doubt that last statement, download our free white paper on Visual Workflow.



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