Tag Archives: strategy

Looking in the Mirror at Customer Focus

Most organizations say they are focused on meeting and exceeding customer needs. But, as a customer, this often isn’t what I experience.

Delighting customers is critical to long term business success. Satisfied customers will remain your customers until they see the opportunity for something that might be better or is cheaper. Delighted customers are loyal and much more likely to remain customers.

Delighting customers is often about paying attention to the small details. Paying close attention to customer’s jobs to be done is a powerful tool. Then apply creative thinking and a knowledge of your industry, technical possibilities and business realities to provide solutions that delight customers.

Mirror in bathroom that is usable after a shower

Photo by a colleague of mine at Hexawise in his Japanese hotel room.

This photo shows a respect for customer’s jobs to be done. In many hotels the mirrors in the bathroom are obstructed after a shower. This mirror has been designed (with a heating element behind the mirror – applying technical engineering and scientific knowledge) to allow customers to be able to use the mirror effectively in the very common use case (after they shower). It is a small detail. It is also the kind of detail that an organization focused on customer delight will get right. Matt shared this photo on Reddit and it received over 80,000 upvotes (there is an appreciation for this improvement).

FYI Hexawise is hiring a senior software testing consultant, in case you want to go see this mirror for yourself and also to work with me and Hexawise to improve customer delight with the software that impacts our lives so much these days.

Solutions must be something that is free (improving processes often reduces costs so it is not always a matter of extra cost) or something customers will pay for (business/market realities). It isn’t useful to create a solution that your customers would like enough to pay 1% extra for if it adds 15% to your costs.

As with so many management improvement strategies how a desire to delight customers is expressed is dependant on many aspects of the existing organization. You can’t wake up on day to the wisdom of delighting customers and announce this new strategy and expect anything to really change. It is dependant on viewing your organization as a system and making the appropriate adjustments to allow the organization to be optimized to delight customers (see creating a customer of customer focus and How To Create a Continual Improvement Culture).

It is critical to design the organization to maximize the potential information generated at the point where customers interact with the organization. That is not a simple thing to do in isolation (based on the current culture of most organizations today). It requires a deep commitment to continual improvement, respect for people and all the rest of the management improvement practices I have been writing about in this blog for over 10 years now.

Related: Aligning Marketing Vision and ManagementDelighting CustomersCustomers, “Internal Customers” and End UsersWhat Job Does Your Product Do? (2007)Stated Versus Revealed PreferenceInnovation Strategy

Strategy Based on Capability and Integrated with Execution

This month Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asked ASQ Influential Voices bloggers to explore the topic of strategy.

If you read about management and organizational strategy you will read a lot about planning and alignment and the process of creating a strategy. I believe too little focus is given to building the capability of the organization to execute on the strategy (and continual management improvement). Lofty ideas without capability are not of much use.

“Strategy” without a thorough understanding of the organization as a system or an understanding of the capabilities of the organization is little more than dreams. Planning and strategy without the capability in the organization or a process to turn strategy into action are not much use.

I find strategy without involving the whole organization is fragile and likely to amount to not much good; and often lots of wasted effort. In order to involve the whole organization in strategy use ideas like Hoshin Kanri (policy deployment) and catchball.

The integrated nature of hoshin kanri is critical to success. It is integrated both by including the whole organization (not just a few executives) and has integration between planning and execution. Both of those are critical.

In practice hoshin kanri is also based on continual improvement. The effectiveness the first year is better than the normal way of defining strategy and then maybe doing something about it. But the large differences are seen years into the effort as the process is improved each year and the capability of the organization to plan effectively and then execute on that plan are increased.

As you have success with small attempts at hoshin kanri you can build on the growing capability of the organization to try more ambitious strategies.

Related: Interview of John Hunter on PDSA, Deming, Strategy and MoreInnovation StrategyHow to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept AdoptedBe Careful What You MeasureBuilding the Capability for Management Improvement in Your OrganizationOut of Touch Executives Damage Companies: Go to the Gemba

Interview on PDSA, Deming, Strategy and More

Bill Fox interviewed me and has posted part one of the interview on his web site: Predicting Results in the Planning Stage (sorry, the link has been hijacked to forward to an unrelated page [so obviously I removed the link], I have posted the interview which can now be reached here):

Bill: John, what is your best process improvement strategy or tactic that has worked well for you or your clients?

John: I would say the PDSA improvement cycle and a few key practices in using the PDSA properly like predicting the results in the plan stage—something that a lot of the times people do not do—to determine what would be done based on the results of that prediction.

People discover, especially when they’re new to this stuff, regarding the data that they’re collecting, that maybe even if they got the results they are predicting, they still don’t have enough data to take action. So you figure that even if that number is 30, they would need to know three other things before they make the change. So then, in the plan stage, you can figure that you need to address these other issues, too. At any time that people are collecting data is useful to figure out, for instance: “What do we need to do if the result is 30 or if the result is 3?” And if you don’t have any difference, why are you collecting the data?

Another important piece is the D in Plan, Do, Study, Act. It means “do the experiment”. A lot of times, people get confused into thinking that D means deploy the results or something like that, but thinking of D as ‘doing the experiment’ can be helpful.

A really big key between people that use PDSA successfully and those who don’t is that the ones that do it successfully turn the cycle quickly.

Another response:

Bill: What is the biggest misunderstanding about the Deming Management System you think people have?

John: I would say that there are a couple. The followers that want to pin everything to Deming tend to overlook the complexities and nuances and other things.

The other problem is that some of the critics latch on to a specific quote from Deming, something like a one-sentence long quote, and then they extrapolate from that one sentence-long quote what that means. And the problem is that Deming has lots of these one-sentence quotes that are very memorable and meaningful and useful, but they don’t capture every nuance and they don’t alone capture what it really means (you need to have the background knowledge to understand it completely).

They are sort of trying to oversimplify the message into these sound bites, and I find that frustrating. Because those individual quotes are wonderful, but they are limited to one little quote out of hours of videotape, books, articles, and when you don’t understand the context in which that resides, that’s a problem.

See the full interview for more details and other topics. I think it is worth reading, of course I am a bit biased.

Related: more interviews with John HunterInterviews with John Hunter on his book: Management MattersDeming and Software DevelopmentLean Blog Podcast with John Hunter

Innovation Strategy

Six Principles for Making New Things by Paul Graham

The answer, I realized, is that my m.o. for all four has been the same. Here it is: I like to find (a) simple solutions (b) to overlooked problems (c) that actually need to be solved, and (d) deliver them as informally as possible, (e) starting with a very crude version 1, then (f) iterating rapidly.

Great advice. Similar to the evidence Clayton Christensen documents in the Innovators Solution on how to innovate successfully. New products and services often start out simple and limited and often are dismissed as unacceptable in various ways. But they solve a real problem and over time are improved and grow market share.

Experimenting quickly and often (iteration) is extremely important and given far to little focus. The PDSA improvement cycle provides a tool to encourage such thinking but still few organizations practice rapid iteration.

Related: Deming on InnovationWhat Job Does Your Product Do?Innovation at GoogleExperiment and Learnmore posts related to Paul Graham
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Lessons from Toyota’s IT Strategy

Another interesting post from Panta Rei: Lessons from Toyota’s IT Strategy:

In order to use IT effectively as a tool, we think that it is important for the top management to not see IT as something that can be applied superficially. First they must see the facts of the business, the facts of the gemba, and on top of this foundation further consider the feelings of people and how to motivate them. Then rules must be written and standardization must be done properly on the basis of the global business framework, before IT is implemented.

The words hardly seem revolutionary. The importance, I believe is understanding how differently Toyota acts upon what it says. For more on Toyota IT see: Toyota IT Overview.

Related: Infromation Technology management improvement related postsToyota IT for KaizenDell, Reddit and Customer FocusIT Management Training Program