Understanding Outside-In Process


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To fully understand Outside-In Process, commonly called “Outside-In” or “OI,” you first have to step outside your current perception of the process discipline. OI takes many secondary elements of traditional process and pushes them to the forefront–and adds new elements at the front and back ends of process design.

Shattering the traditional process model

Traditional process design, which includes approaches such as Six Sigma, Lean, TOC and TQM) works “inside-out.” Traditional approaches focus on what’s happening internally, and the primary goals are typically internal measures.

In recent years, process professionals driving design have started paying much more attention to customer needs. Despite this enhanced sensitivity to customer needs, however, customer considerations influence process design as a conditioner rather than drive process design, as with Outside-In.

Scope leap

Outside-In brings “scope leap,” rather than scope creep, to process design. OI starts by developing customer vision. We often call this “finding your inner customer.” By seeing through customer eyes, we can much more readily appreciate customer concerns–and we can often identify unarticulated needs subconsciously waiting for business to discover how to fulfill them.

An excellent example of an unarticulated need is customers accepting low service electronics retailing as the price for paying less than at boutique stores–until Best Buy transformed itself into a low price, high service and demographically sensitive seller. Best Buy broke the electronics retailing mold to deliver what customers thought they couldn’t have–but BB understood they yearned for.

But why do we call such customer vision “process?” Because business concepts by themselves deliver no customer value. The implementation of concepts–the work designed to make them the reality–delivers the value. And designing work is pure process, or should be. Which makes developing customer-centric business strategies the first step that drives the rest of OI.

New focus

In most settings, traditional, inside-out process approaches focus 90% of process attention on how work is performed, which is natural because traditional process started in manufacturing, where how work happens is the dominant variable affecting both quality and efficiency. However, while manufacturing certainly does play a role in delivering customer value, discovering new ways to please customers–and implementing the appropriate activities–starts with front and back office functions or in service areas. And OI excels at designing office/serviced (O/S) process.

Once customer strategies are determined, Outside-In designs:

  • What work will implement the strategies
  • Who would best perform this work (functionally)
  • How work should be accomplished
  • Technology support required to enable and facilitate the work

All but how fall outside the traditional purview of business process.

Transformational change

Traditional process design delivers incremental change. But putting the customer in the driver’s seat may require transformational change. When called for, OI will redefine work, redraw functional boundaries, reroute workflow and information flow and recalibrate the technology environment. However much change you decide to make, OI is up to the task.


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