Tag Archives: standardization

Standardization: A View

Blog Pictures 092Allow me to give you a view on standardization.  As part of this view, I will give you my background which will give you some insight into why I see things this way.  Gone is the moniker of “Lean basher” or being part of a group that takes pleasure in being experts, but not very helpful.  I represent only myself and what I have learned.

I started my “organizational improvement” journey back in industrial distribution in the mid-80s. I was influenced by the work of W. Edwards Deming as his message was far different than what I had learned in my MBA program.  I made lots of mistakes (and still do) and continue to learn.  I do not believe there are experts when I consult, the true experts are those doing the work.  I can only offer what I have experienced and learned.

I’ve worked with just about every type of service organization and spent a large bulk of this time working with information technology companies.  Upon reflection of these years, most of the work was to standardize and improve processes as coding to a standard process is much easier than coding to large variation.

The more I saw standardization being written into business requirements the more I saw workers and service suffer.  Standardized menus to choose from call center workers that don’t reflect the actual demands.  In contact centers, I saw the most popular choice of call type being “miscellaneous” or “other” – worthless data that could help no one.

I also saw workers being forced to standardized processes, scripts, rules, procedures that did not fit the questions customers were asking.  This caused customers to call back or leave – you can measure the ones that call back, but it can be difficult to measure who left or gave up and will eventually leave.

I have also seen that as I worked with information technology customers’ that making a change to the software became an event.  Even small changes had to be vetted and prioritized while workers and customers waited.  Governance meetings were held and items would move up and down the list.  I knew there was something seriously wrong when a developer after a governance meeting stated, “I could have made that change in 5 minutes and we discussed it for two hours.”  The software development cycle (a form of standard work) to build software had become the inhibitor to enabling the work that mattered to workers (end users) and customers.  IT had lost its aim – to help users create value for customers.

Side note: Information technology companies have made it much harder than it used to be or needs to be.  The answer to budget and time overruns to IT projects was building more bureaucracy with BAs, Testers and PMs.  Most of the time the PMs are just asking the developers when they will be done or ticking some other box.  The truth is the only role that creates value is the developer.  The way software has been split into multiple specialists has created more complexity and waste.  Even small changes can take weeks and months.  All in the name of process.

Today, when I work with a client I don’t even talk about standardization.  I talk about a customer’s interactions and aims, and organizational perspectives, beliefs and assumptions.  The first two help you see what the customer sees and that last three help you understand why you designed the work that way.  I call it a Model to Unlearn as part of the 95 Method – it is explained in the 95 Method video.

During this exercise, I typically will find where standardization is driving in avoidable demand (demand that customers don’t want to have and service organizations don’t want).  If I was talking about 1 or 2% that might be OK, but when you see 25, 50 – 80% you know there is something seriously wrong. The root of the problem is not all standard work, but it is certainly its brothers and sisters . . . scripts, rules, procedures, etc.  All these things create barriers between front-line worker and customer.  And many were created by management and support areas without worker input.

Instead, what I find works best is smartening up workers.  Learn the end-to-end system and the beliefs and assumptions that went into it.  Armed with knowledge, understanding and wisdom . . . workers can decide how best to design the work.  This is not what I see happening under any moniker (lean, six sigma, TQM, continuous improvement, etc), instead we get the “smart” people from support areas and management to make standardized work to control the worker.  Adding additional waste by inspecting them, pressuring compliance and then rewarding or disciplining them – how fun a job is that?  The worker I mean.

The key to me is that I don’t even bring up standardized work until the worker says, “It would be nice to have something that helps me do this.”  It is natural and unprovoked by outside influence – you won’t have to reward, discipline, inspect or seek compliance because the worker understands the need.  The added benefit is increase morale.

Take a look at your organization as your customers see it –  our 4-day workshop has been called “an awakening experience.”  You will understand the customer view of your organization and take inventory of the assumptions, beliefs and perspectives that drive performance.  Tripp Babbitt is a service design architect and organizational futurist.  His company helps service organizations understand future trends, culture and customer.  The 95 Method designs organizations to improve the comprehensive customer experience while improving culture and management effectiveness.  Read his column at Quality Digest and his articles for CallCenterIQReach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Service is a Box of Chocolates

You never know what you’re gonna get.

 

The standardization juggernaut continues to carve a deep path through service.  Improvement folks, IT, management, etc. continue to hitch their wagon to the standardization movement.  Complete with mind numbing audits and inspection to seek compliance.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the workers were “pulling” for standard work, but what I continue to see is folks not doing the work or even really have a clue about the work coming up with standard work and sending the audit police after the perpetrators.

However, this is only half the problem.  The other half is the problems you get if the processes look the same from location to location, but the demands are different.  Now you may be creating avoidable customer demands in the name of standardization.

Still another half (yes, I know I have used up my halves) say, “no kaizen without standard work” quoting Taiichi Ohno and the Toyota Production System (TPS) assuming manufacturing is the same as service . . . it is not.  Consider Forrest Gump and the box of chocolates, if the variety of demands is great or different by proximity forced standardization can create more problems (increased costs, lost customers, more mistakes, etc.).

Regardless, studying the effects of standardization before a massive roll-out is a good place to start.  Steps to standardization:

  1. Study customer interactions/demands and do this with workers that deal with customers/clients/patients/constituents.  Are they repeated over and over (like manufacturing)?  Probably not, but if they are then make sure the worker is asking for standard work – after all they have to use them.  Forced standardization will create zombie workers.
  2. Train on customer demands, not processes.  If workers are being trained, they need help to learn.  If 80-90% of the volume of demands are from just a few types of interactions then only train what they need to do them.  Leave out the IT system training, only train to what they need to handle what customers are asking for . . . the rest is waste.
  3. For the rest, customer-interacting workers are better to work to axiom and principles.  If you have a principle to “Do what is important to customers – that is reasonable.”  Workers will know what to do without having their minds checked at the door.  The workers engaged with customers have all the information needed and are in the best position to make a decision on what is best for the customer.  Once you restrict this with policies, rules and procedures or have to pass to managers you enter cost and waste.

 

Maybe I need a new slogan like:

“Friends don’t let friends standardize”

“When it absolutely, positively, has to be standardized let the workers do it.”

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.  Don’t standardize.”

The tyranny of forced standardization without knowledge or worker input has to come to an end.  I hope it comes soon.

Take a look at your organization as your customers see it –  our 4-day workshop has been called “an awakening experience.”  You will understand the customer view of your organization and take inventory of the assumptions, beliefs and perspectives that drive performance.  Tripp Babbitt is a service design architect and organizational futurist.  His company helps service organizations understand future trends, culture and customer.  The 95 Method designs organizations to improve the comprehensive customer experience while improving culture and management effectiveness.  Read his column at Quality Digest and his articles for CallCenterIQReach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt. 

 

 

 

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The Perfect Medicine for Outsourced and Shared Service Success?

I ran across the “Sourcing Sage” and his creative cartoons about outsourcing.  I found the cartoons to be entertaining but not-so-much the sage advice.  His wisdom is that in order to outsource/share services an organization needs to do the following:

  1. Process Documentation
  2. Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)
  3. Training Curriculum
  4. Knowledge Base
  5. Product Documentation
  6. Organizational Optimization
  7. Workstation Standardization
  8. Systems Inventory
  9. Metrics
  10. Costs

Nothing new or creative but does “re-emphasize” what most big IT firms will tell you.  Unfortunately, most of this stuff guarantees nothing when sharing services and/or outsourcing.  In fact, most of it is waste.  However, in the industry this is best practice.  A fool and his money are soon parted.

And it happens all too often . . .

Standardization leads to failure demand as these manufacturing factories can not absorb variety found in service.  The result is a colossal waste of organizational dollars.  All the documentation in the world is not going to fix an already broken work design, it just adds to the costs.

For more on outsourcing and shared services click the one that interests you.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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The Customer Strikes Back – Are You Ready?

I recently read an article by Doc Searls in the Wall Street Journal called, “The Customer as a God.”  Customers have long catered to service organizations by being treated in a  herd mentality – meaning the customer has to adjust to to the service organization.  However, the future holds a very different environment.

Doc Searls references it as Vendor Relationship Management. The Customer is King!

This is yet another strike to economy of scale thinking .  Mass marketing soon will give way to individual marketing and economies of flow.  This future means that service organizations will need to absorb great variety in customer demands.  Standardization will not only cost more through failure demand, but will now not give what customers crave services fit for them in a customized manner.

Wow!  Redesigning our thinking about the design and management of work is now more important than ever.  Not only does it cost less, but it delivers service in a truly personal manner.

Are you ready for the future?

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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GM and the “Frozen Middle” – What We Can Learn

Interesting article in the WSJ today called, GM Chief Labors to Get Rebuilt Carmaker into Gear which outlines some of GMs difficulties.  There is a little bit of everything:

  • Functional separation of work leading to in-fighting
  • Outsourcing
  • Performance rewards that cause internal competition
  • The bureaucracy created by those in support functions
  • Economies of scale thinking

All of the above perpetuate the problems of GM.  Economy of scale thinking has long been replaced by economies of flow.  Remember the US had all the scale after WWII and lost manufacturing to a country with little or no natural resources or scale – Japan.  The scale thinking has to go, before the country does.

However, I see more of the “frozen middle” than anything.  Support functions and middle management that stagnate whole organizations.  They are people that cannot say “yes” and add costs and bureaucracy to organizations.  Like a boat anchor to ships these folks eat resources and ruin whole financial budgets.  The need to get these folks jobs that create value or enable those that create is a daunting task.  Most people in non-value adding roles see themselves as adding value and often so do the executives that put them there.

So, the frozen middle remains frozen.  Incapable of creating value and there unintentionally to thwart innovation and invent hoops for those that can create value to jump through like policies, entrapping technology, standardization, rules, etc.  The problem with the frozen middle is irony.  It is ironic that it freezes progress, but as the dysfunction grows so does the middle expand its activities.  Organizations intending to reduce costs, increase them as they add more folks to the middle ranks.

GM is not unique in this problem.  All organizations have a frozen middle, they are there to make things run smoothly.  However, counter-intuitively they make things much worse.

Come hear me speak at the CAST conference in San Jose, California!  Re-Thinking Management . . . Re-Thinking . . . IT!

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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The Road from Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence

On occasion I go back and read some old favorite books that helped shape my thinking.  Peter Scholte’s book, The Leader’s Handbook, was one such book that gave a me pause.  The history of what became known as the Quality Movement is well-described.

One such concept from the book is for whole management to move from a state of unconscious incompetence to a conscious competence.  Too many executives do not understand how poor their systems are performing.  One of the great breakthroughs in service industry (my perspective) is the idea of failure demand – a failure to do something or do something right for a customer (95)  – this measure alone begins the process of unwinding myths and legends that exist in organizations and opens a new way of thinking.  A move from unconscious incompetence to conscious INcompetence.  More ways are need for management to understand the damaging effects of poor thinking.

Once management understands they have a problem that is steeped in their thinking, with the right guidance and being empirical an organization can begin to achieve conscious competence.  It still requires work to be competent and reinforcement of new thinking to make improvement.  Unpacking old and damaging thinking takes time.  Management must learn that it takes patience, persistence, humility and a period of ineptness – something most managers are uncomfortable in doing as confidence (even wrongly achieved) is a trait embraced.

But managers are incompetent and part of competence is learning an organization as a system . . . outside-in from a customers point of view.  This requires knowledge of the work and competence in doing the work and/or the ability to defer to those that do have competence in the work.  And in service, the work is the interaction of customer and front-line employee to satisfy customer demands.

Why is being in the work so important for management?

Because this is the place the business fortunes are won and loss.  This is where you can see the effects of the unintended consequences of policies, rules, mandates, standadrdization and other management driven measures and programs.  This is the best way to move from unconscious incompetence to conscious INcompetence.  Otherwise, management tends to rationalize the situation without seeing and hearing for themselves.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Seeing is Believing

Evidence . . . the one act that can counteract a thousand assumptions.

Faith seems to have been lost over the years and replaced by the pursuit of profit.  Can you really trust anyone these days?  Politicians, plumbers, sales people, attorneys, mobile phone companies, investment bankers, car repair are all professions and industries that we don’t trust – and I certainly don’t mean to say these are the only ones.  They seem to be in it for themselves or what ever profit they can get no matter what the consequences.

However, if I can see evidence that can convince me, but only if I understand what I am seeing.  Knowledge plays a huge role in my understanding.  Most executives lack knowledge these days.  This gives them limited perspective on how to solve today’s business problems.

Indeed this is due – in part – to having come up through a functionally separated organization.  Sales, marketing, finance, operations, information technology, human resources, etc. an executive has a limited view.  Also, the focus on finances clouds the ability to actually see.  Executives are flying their businesses in a fog, blind to the reality of what is.

The biases from years of functional, industrialized thinking and outdated education leads us to a place where we follow what we know, even if it ain’t so.  Outsourcing, a shared services strategy, cutting costs from a budget, standardizing processes are examples of things that business executives embrace . . . until they can see evidence of the damage these things almost always do.  These are profit reducing activities where the evidence demands a verdict.

If there is a skill I have been honing it is to be able to view an organization and spot the problems of an organization.  Finding them is simple, finding one that will get an executive to go look and experience the agony and waste that comes with poorly designed systems constructed from the wrong perspective and assumptions is much harder and personal.

Evidence . . . where seeing truly is believing.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Simplify, Standardize and Centralize – The Mantra of Fools

Industrialized service design in government and service industry continues to drag us all down.  Government and service companies with higher costs and customers with poor service and higher prices – somebody has to pay for the waste and sub-optimization.

Technology vendors make a ton of money selling their wares with the cover of simplify, standardize and centralize.  They will show you ROI on a PowerPoint but you can rarely find evidence that the TOTAL economic system has been improved.  Hype via marketing is a much stronger tool because in that world you can make up all kinds of stuff and not get challenged.  We (technology vendors) are making lots of money, it must be good!

In service, variety is the enemy.  Standardization fits the industrialized mindset.  But variety of demand is inescapable.  A counter-intuitive truth that remains foreign to government and service companies.

Technology is much cheaper to deploy when there is standardization.  The key word is deploy meaning code and sell.  The wrong questions get asked and the technology factory spits out more and more worthless software.

Centralization is all about getting economies of scale.  However economies are in flow, not scale.  Good flow of services involves an organizational design that is devoid of non-sensical functional separation of work.

Ultimately, making good decisions about technology comes down to knowledge and evidence.  The fools will make assumptions without evidence.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Service as a Commodity

An excellent post by Simon Caulkin called Not Customers but Commodities got my attention.  It illustrates how customers are being treated like commodities.  Technology, standardization or a combination of the two have left us feeling . . . shorted in the service we receive.

Efficiency has replaced sanity and customers feel it.  Service organizations (public and private) have looked to their own bottom-line to “hit the numbers.”  Meanwhile service to customers has deteriorated either rapidly or slowly, but does entropy.

Managers without fortitude or knowledge claim they are trying to balance profit and good service.  The result is disastrous and preposterous.  The false assumption is that there is a trade-off between good service and costs.  The “zero-sum game” as I call it.

The truth is there isn’t a trade-off.

Good service delivered the way a customer wants it always costs less.  Less handling and more revenue.  Oh, and less marketing to service customers that don’t need to be convinced of your good service – because you are delivering it.

Absorbing variety in a technology, best practice, rules, scripted and standardized world is very difficult and the customers are left out of the equation.  Like a product that is cheap but only lasts a few days, service is done in the cheapest manner at the expense of the customer.

The examples are many, like a contact center geared to answer calls that add revenue but put customers through the gauntlet when they have a problem.  In an attempt to avoid costs, service organizations add costs.  IVRs to navigate and back offices to negotiate . . . in a word it sucks.

The good news – for now- is that all your competition stinks too.  Customers are mired in mediocrity or less and yearn for someone to actually stand out.

However, given the service systems companies have designed business improvement seems so far away. Managing costs over rules good service.  If only service companies and governments understood that serving customers ineffectively is at the root of the causes of costs.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Dismantling the Information Technology Monoliths

Before technology was cool . . . OK, maybe that is too far back for technology.  How about before information technology (IT) was cool, there were manual processes of paper and people.  The advent of the computer and the advances of telecommunications have allowed much to be accomplished . . . and not all of it is good.

Service organizations adopting technology did so in the name of automation and modernization.  Why have paper when we can have information technology?  Or, why have people when we can have information technology?

Salient questions that have created more hype than good sense in the answers to them.  IT has become management’s monolith – huge structures that rival the pyramids for the modern day executive pharaohs.

However, the unquestioning embrace of IT as the “answer” to all things manual has led us to more bureaucracy and greater complexity.  Neither being optimal for customers or those front-line staff that have to interact with them.

Why is this so?

Two major reasons are the design of the work was never optimal and in order to make IT work we have had to expand how to manage IT.

The design of the work into front- back and sometimes even middle offices goes unchallenged.  This is more the mass-production and industrialized thinking of manufacturing . . . which, by the way, has not worked well since W. Edwards Deming visited Japan to show them a better way. The US now struggles to compete in manufacturing at all.  Wrongly thinking that cheaper labor is the key and not the design of the work.  Service has embraced this thinking of yesteryear to add costs and miss the point about the causes of costs.

The second reason for IT is the structures (monoliths) we have built to control IT costs.  Yet, they drive costs up.

The explosion of IT has brought us the project manager and projects to keep costs under control.  But no one questions the costs of project management. They do offer us ways to check up on those “always behind” developers and we all love those Red-Yellow-Green reports that tell us nothing associated with what is really going on.

Before project management, we had business analysts that in EDS were originally part of the path to become a software developer.  Now, the BA position is an end in itself to make a production line mentality complete.  BA gets the requirements and the developer codes.  Besides good developers are costly and should be hidden away and they don’t know how to interact with business folks – ahhhhh, I knew there was a good reason.

Let us not forget about governance, good management of IT means good governance.  We have to have standards, plans, priorities, reports, risk management, fiduciary responsibility, etc., etc., etc. And now one begins to wonder how it is IT is actually saving money?

Plus in many large organizations trying to get an improvement through IT or fix something is such that . . .  a snowball would have a better chance in Hades.

Maybe it is time to rethink IT, what do you think?

Join me for the International Deming Conference in New York City on March 21 – 22.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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