Ten “Must Dos” for Designing Customer-Aligned Process


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Many companies make a fundamental error at the start of redesigning business process to support customer-alignment. They call over to manufacturing. Or they may call a six sigma or Lean process consultant. Or, they may even call IT. Regardless, the results are the same. Manufacturing (or systems) process denizens wind up applying inappropriate process design approaches in customer-facing areas—which often does more harm than good, and at best produces mediocre results.

How do you know if this scenario is about to do a tap dance on your head? Look for these ten key elements the process design approach you’re about to apply to customer-facing functions—in fact, to all variable (non-manufacturing) work environments.

1. Start with customer-aligned strategies. “Customer-aligned process” means business process fully supports customer-aligned business strategies. If you don’t align strategies with process, by default you’ll wind up designing for efficiency, which almost always means taking value away from customers rather than adding value. Ironically, because taking the customer-aligned approach creates the freedom to restructure rather than just trim around the edges, it almost always produces more efficiency than designing for efficiency.

2. You need a workflow scanning tool. Workflow describes the movement of work and information from work station to work station, function to function, and between functions and external stakeholders—like customers. Compared to variable work environments, including front office functions, manufacturing has relatively few key workflows—so few that there’s no need for a scanning tool. But assessing variable work environments often including hundreds of workflows requires a powerful and fast workflow assessment tool.

3. Workflow redesign must be coupled with information flow redesign. In variable environments such as sales, marketing and customer care, work means managing and communicating information. Work and information are tied at the umbilical cord. So if you optimize workflow, it only makes sense that you have to change information flow with it. Manufacturing process methods don’t need to factor in information flow because work is performed on physical objects, not information.

4. Workflow must be uncoupled from individual work process. In variable environments, the vast majority of work impediments, time loss, work errors and other defects—especially failure to deliver value to customers—occur at the workflow level, not at the individual work process level (which describes how individuals do their own work). So why start off looking at very detailed work process, as Six Sigma does? You’ll only lose the forest for the trees. Further, you’ll proceed at a snail’s pace, which you can’t afford because variable environments include so many flows.

5. The drill-down to work process occurs after workflow is redesigned. Individual work process is a dependent variable in variable environments. It has to support the workflow above. In manufacturing, work process is more independent. And by the way, Lean has no mechanism to reengineer and document individual work process, which is essential for the front office and most other variable settings.

6. The process approach has to “specify” systems architecture changes. Please don’t get thrown by the fancy “systems architecture” term. Systems architecture describes how the various technology components are arrayed and connected—which is vital to getting the right information to the right place at the right time. Of course, you don’t hand IT a piece of paper and say: “Do this.” IT should be involved in workflow redesign so they’re already up to speed on what’s happening. But information flow must follow workflow, not the other way around, making your redesigned workflow a blueprint for IT to follow.

7. The work process reengineering must lead to application software requirements. Variable workers need application software tools for managing and communicating information. And if the work process design doesn’t produce software requirements, you’ll inevitably wind up with software that’s misaligned with work. Manufacturing process folks aren’t concerned with application software.

8. Business process redesign, including both workflow and work process, has to be participative. On the shop floor, people are cogs in a wheel. They have little choice but to conform. Think about sales. Does sales “have to conform” to process changes? Not in our lifetime. And that’s true of almost all variable settings. Variable workers must be involved in designing their own changes. Otherwise, you’ll raise a brick wall of resistance.

9. Process design must include change management strategies. While manufacturing workstations are “work islands,” variable functions have great interdependency. A change in one may rebound all over the company. Plus, because of the complexity of variable environments, process change inevitably triggers unintended consequences that must be carefully managed. Companies have to carefully plan and stage change—and the planning has to emanate from the process work.

10. The process methodology has to be accessible to all. Because variable process change is a participative endeavor involving mostly “non-process” people, process symbology is out. So is specialized process vocabulary. And training a special cadre of non-process people in a process approach only creates “process police,” who try to take away variable worker empowerment—often with disastrous outcomes.

Making sure your process methodology observes these nine basic rules will prevent you from trying to drive square process pegs into round process environments.


  1. Dick

    In the beginning, when Hammer & Champy wrote, ‘Reengineering the Corporation’, they extolled companies to start their reengineering efforts with customer-facing processes and then work inwards into more deep-seated business processes. Most companies didn’t take this advice quite so literally and used BPR to reduce costs (read: headcount) instead. Serving the customer was often an after-thought.

    In much of my BPR work for service companies like airlines, telcos and banks, and manufacturing companies like automotive, I not only start with customer-facing processes, but also actively involve customers in all aspects of the reengineering process. Involving customers isn’t easy, but by adapting and combining techniques borrowed from outcome-driven innovation, value innovation, lead-user toolkits and user-centred design, I have found it highly effective.

    You don’t mention actively involving customers in your ten points. What is your experience in this difficult area? Are then any best-practice approaches you use to really get customers involved?

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Dick Lee
    Principal, High-Yield Methods

    Graham – I used the “strategic alignment” as a starting point, rather than going all the way back to customer input, which indirectly describes our approach here. We believe in intensive customer input (rather than involvement) in development of customer-centric strategies. And I make that distinction because our Hyper-Planning activity where we shape strategies often includes considerable discussion of internal costs and profitability that our clients are uncomfortable having with customers at the table. I don’t question the value customers would deliver in planning sessions, but we’ve never been able to move clients beyond active customer councils.

    Regarding customer involvement in process design, the hurdle with clients would be even higher. But in this case, I believe that having adequate customer input is sufficient. I’m not sure that seating customers at the table during Visual Workflow process design sessions would add value, and I suspect they’d be bore to death.

    Good points.


  3. Hi Graham & Dick

    I know this is a CRM focussed forum but the one thing that does not get picked up in BPR and is as important as customer alignment, is to engage with suppliers or prospective suppliers as soon as possible as well. The best and most customer centric processes for a telco I worked for, failed because the handset manufacturer was not consulted by the product manager.

    Rob Burness
    3inc Pty Ltd

  4. Rob – I agree with you 100%. I try to go easy on process not directly related to customers on CustomerThink, but in my new book (Process to the People) I’m covering the SCM side.

    Also, if you’d like to write up a short description of the case, I can use it.

    Dick Lee

  5. Rob

    One of the most interesting experiences I have had working with Toyota is their focus on understanding how value flows through the extended value stream. This not only includes upstream activities like automobile manufacturing and distribution, but also far downstream activities like how customers use their vehicles, how they dispose of them and how subsequent customers use them.

    The Lean Enterprise Academy has a couple of great work books on this extended value stream thinking. The first, Learning to See covers the end-to-end value stream within the organisation, whilst the second, Seeing the Whole covers the extended value stream upstream with suppliers and their suppliers, and downstream with customers and their customers. The books really are excellent. There are plenty more resources about the extended value steam at the LEA site and at its sister site the Lean Enterprise Institute in the USA.

    Interestingly, the basic value stream tools and techniques I have learned first hand at Toyota are now proving very useful in adapting telco process frameworks like eTOM, NGOSS and ITIL to make them fit for customers.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager


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