When Jules Verne Wrote “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” Did He invent the Submarine? (and we really are talking about Outside-In


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Through my travels across Linkedin groups, I’ve read (and received) innumerable comments saying this approach or activity or that was started by ____________ in year ____ because they wrote about it in their book, “______________.” I even had someone seriously claim our Visual Workflow approach to Outside-In didn’t exist until 2002 because there was no “academic literature” describing the underlying principles until then – despite HYM and others deploying it regularly since 1996 (actually, I had written a book describing the principles in 2000, but that didn’t count because I didn’t write it during my 10 years teaching graduate B-school). These comments come from marketing, HR (and its related components) but especially from process thought leaders regarding the starting points for customer-centric process.

So here are the real questions:

If an academic or a process theorist or even a heady practitioner writes about something they can’t make happen at street level with any frequency, should they lay claim to it? If so, I should lay claim to all of Don Peppers and Martha Roger’s work initiating “One-to-One Marketing” in the 1990s, because I’d been writing about it in the 1980s – without, unfortunately, popularizing it.

Or if someone writes about customer-centricity in a Lean, Six Sigma or LSS book, has customer-centricity been part of that approach since then?

I say “No” to both questions. We don’t practice theory. Concepts to me are only real when there’s empirical evidence they’re being practiced and popularized both. For all the words written about customer-centricity now being integral parts of Lean, 6S and LSS, we still don’t see real world, customer-driven implementations. And when I’ve asked Linkedin commenters/readers (repeatedly) for examples of Lean, 6S or LSS taking companies from inside-out (company-centric) to Outside-In (customer-centric), I’ve heard deafening silence. Except for Toyota examples.

What do you say?

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Hi Dick

    An interesting post.

    Like you, I have been involved in creating and popularising a number of ‘new’ business frameworks, toolkits and methods. Like most new things in life, very few are really all that new. Instead, they are a synthesis of existing ideas. The newness comes from combining the existing ideas in new ways. This applies just as much to Outside-In, which is a synthesis of other ideas, as it does to most other new things. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    Everyone kows your rather unusual view of lean, sig sigma and related methods. And your denial that they are customer-centric approaches. At least as customer-centric as Outside-In is. Each to their own. However, it is patently not-correct to suggest that there are no case studies of the successful implementation of customer-centric lean or six-sigma in non-manufacturing environments. In reality, there are plenty of examples. But only if if you are willing to acknowledge them.

    A selection of companies that have successfully implemented customer-centric lean or six-sigma in non-manufacturing environments, include:

    Jefferson Pilot Financial
    Deutsche Bahn
    UK National Health Service
    Canada Post.

    Oh, and of course, Toyota

    You may have heard of a few of these companies. I have case studies from many more.

    The key is not to berate the established competition, but to show how your approach is better than theirs are. Complete with your own transformational case studies.

    Perhaps you would be taken more seriously if you took some advice from Bing Crosby; “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative, Latch on to the affirmative, Don’t mess with Mister In-Between”.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  2. Graham – very simply put, we have different standards for defining customer-centricity. And to be more specific, Toyota masqueraded as a customer-centric company but has been found out to be very much other than. You still believe they’re customer-centric. I very much do not. That’s why we disagree on so many things.

    I don’t accentuate the negative, but I have very high standards of accomplishment. And when academics start slinging out comments that of course LSS is customer-centric because Jones & Womack wrote about that in 200X, that fails to meet the test for me. That was my point. Please don’t take something I write and use it as an excuse for a condescending comment about what I wasn’t writing about. Not polite. Nor professional.

    And BTW, this post started as a response to a specific group of process academics (the BPTrends folks) who are trying with all their might not to acknowledge that O-I produces different outcomes than traditional BPM. No one who’s ever participated in one of our implementations doubts that, including master black belts and LSS fanatics. Of course, these folks teach rather than do.

  3. Hi Dick

    Thanks for your honest reply. It is always refreshing to hear what people really think, rather than have to unpick the weasel words they use because they don’t have conviction in what they believe. Like you, I always try to be honest and straightforward in my writing, sometimes at the risk of appearing a little blunt.

    I am not sure that we do have a different understanding when it comes to looking at what customers’ value. My understanding has been set out in various posts on customer-centricity, customer co-creation and customer-driven innovation. It is based on really understanding what it is that customers value, in terms of the jobs customers are trying to do and the outcomes they are trying to achieve. This is similar to the outcome-orientation that Outside-In has also developed recently.

    The companies I listed – all of them huge businesses – have all used lean or six-sigma approaches to develop their customer-centricity. I was responsible for two of the programmes and saw for myself how developing an understanding of what customers reallly value drove changes that increased customer satisfaction, distributor satisfaction and profits in roughly that order. And I know enough of the other programmes to know they did the same too.

    Of course, knowing what customers really value doesn’t mean that they can or should always be given it. Sometimes this requires expensive new capabilities that the company and its partners do not have. Or sometimes it can’t be done at an economic profit. Irrespective of the value that customers ultmately receive, it all starts with an understanding of what customers value.

    I suspect that if you were to really look under the lean and six sigma covers at some of the companies I listed earlier, or better still, to deliver a proper lean or six sigma project, you would find that lean and six sigma have more in common with Outside-In than you are currently willing to recognise. It all starts with an understanding of what customers value. But I suspect you know that as well as I do.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  4. Graham, I think Dick has done a decent job of identifying the differences in the approach of VWF and Lean, SS, etc. I’m not a process expert, but it’s easy to see differences in what they are dealing with here


    Personally, if the only difference is not using process-speak and symbology with people (workers, executives, etc) who have no background in it, then that’s a major plus in my opinion. I don’t care how big the company is. Can you really eliminate complexity when you’re working with complex concepts on top of complex inside-out process? We’re talking about the customer experience, not the product journey from concept, to manufacturing, to customer.

    Maybe. I believe there can be more success with an approach designed for simplicity, mass consumption and effective outcomes within a reasonable timespan. In my world, all of these things are critical.

    See my spaghetti post if you want to know how simple-minded I am 🙂

    Mike Boysen
    Effective CRM

  5. Hi Mike

    You are a very self-effacing chap. Although I have never met you, the many posts of yours I have read show that you are much more talented than you give yourself credit for.

    I am not an expert in Six Sigma so I will not comment on it. But I have quite a bit of experience in lean, so I will comment on that. I have seen Dick’s comparison charts many times over the past few years. His comparison between Outside-In (VWF a few years ago) and lean bears no relation to the customer-centric lean projects that I have personally implemented. None whatsoever.

    I agree with you entirely that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I have been involved in BPR since the earliest days of Michael Hammer. In that time I have worked on literally dozens of projects using different BPR methodologies. From companies with 90 employees to companies with 90,000. You might say that BPR was in my blood! The key to success is always starting with a detailed understanding of what customers value, developing the right value creating capabilities (combinations of processes, systems, people, work routines, culture, performance measures, and other assets and resources), selecting the right business partners and implementing it all so that the most value is created. It is from these humble beginnings that great customer experiences evolve. And ultimately, much loved service brands like Southwest Airlines develop.

    Each BPR approach has its strengths and weaknesses. That applies to lean just as much as it does to Outside-In. No-one approach that I have seen, or used, is head and shoulders above any other in all circumstances. So pick one that suits you, your organisation and your project, and use it intelligently. It’s not about the approach, no matter what the BPR snake-oil salesmen tell you. It all starts with understanding what customers value. But I suspect you knew that already too.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  6. Dick Lee – Graham, I agree with you about selecting the right horse for the track. We decline requests to take VW into a fixed product line manufacturing environment. We recommend Lean (over 6S and LSS). A couple of our clients have done it themselves to locate problems (which 6S doesn’t do well), but they’re on their own.In fact, until very recently, I would have said we don’t use VW in production settings, but we’ve started working with a high volume automotive reconditioning plant where the work varies so much VW fits right in.


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