I have spent the best part of my career making a living through helping changing organisations become either more efficient through decoupling the inevitable rise of overheads from growth or reconnecting their expensive and unwieldy service systems with a neglected customer base (computer says no – often – for the poor folk in our nations call centres and service businesses). Most commonly I have spent vast amounts of time and resources shedding businesses of years of legacy and a ‘we only do it this way’ culture. Inefficiency, inadequate systems, and recalcitrant people or processes, through one reason or another, had become the ingredients for misalignment to the intrinsic value of why these businesses attracted custom in the first place and was a threat to their very future.
This blog is an attempt at codifying the result of years of pitfalls, false dawns, and hopefully the odd nugget of gold, into a recipe for any business to take on-board on their journey to do good by their customers and investors.
I began this journey convinced in the ways of Lean Six Sigma. Sure, in the belief that if individual process were as efficient as could be, and free of waste and rework then companies would deliver better margins through happier customers and have lower management costs. Its offers that veritable unicorn of the P&L world – cost out, margin up – without losing your key talent through 1000 papercuts. I executed this proposition with swagger, armed with the best data people, underpinned with the foundations of good program management and even helped them feel good about this ‘special work’ with progressive reward structures. For short cycles, this approach delivered exceptional ROI in financial quarters, or even years, however, the efficiency did not perpetuate over long periods and the people within the organisation reverted to type.
We had great processes, best in class systems, well coached and managed people, but we were no better at delivering on the needs of our customers than ever. How could have this been the case? As I searched for the answers two books happened to fall upon my desk; Freedom from Command and Control by John Seddon and Linchpin by Seth Godin. Within the combined pages of the works of Seddon and Godin a seed was sown. A seed that germinated into a way of working (Lean Agile Systems Thinking) that is now so “in” it has an acronym (LAST). We business people just love acronyms, don’t we?
Over the coming months, I will deep dive into many of the tools and components that make up running a LAST enterprise. These concepts apply equally to the established as they do the start-up, I have been fortunate enough to have good experience of them in both. In this inaugural post, I’ll attempt a definition of LAST, or at least what these concepts mean to us here at Vita.
Lean Thinking: follows a learn-measure-build cycle to continuously improve processes and create new products. Lean thinking relentlessly eliminates waste. A lean organisation will consistently generate new ideas, validate them with data, and change. This is where the power of Lean Six Sigma, previously sullied in the above paragraph, has its place. Lean thinking is efficiency in innovation = lower costs equating to a sustainable business model.
Agile Thinking: Adapts to changes and can seize emerging opportunities. Agile organisations value output, not activities. Agile squads, no matter if they are business or technical, focus on removing barriers at this level. Therefore, Agile Thinking is flexibility to shift activities = market leadership = disruption.
Systems Thinking: Analyses cause and effect of any activity across an organisations entire value chain to ensure all activity is focused on strategic objectives and most importantly the intrinsic value to its customer of the good or service it sells. For example, if your customer’s key criteria to do business with you is speed- don’t add cool stuff if it slows the transaction down. No matter how profitable it appears (unless you don’t like your customers and want new and different customers…d’ya want fries with that sir?)
Systems Thinking + Agile organisational design = Happy customers.
While Lean thinking keeps your company accountant happy.
And who doesn’t want a friendly keeper of your organisations purse?
In my next post I’ll take a more in-depth look into the tool I am most asked about probably because it is so visual in any office space. Agile…or what is this wall with all the cards and pretty pictures and why do we need it?