Experience-based Operational Excellence


The Customer Experience

Experience means many things.  An experience is a direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge.  In other words, the customer experiences something through observation or participation.  Experience also relates to a customer as the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation.  In other words, the customer has experienced things with the company that they base opinion on.  Also, experience is related to an individual based on their practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity.  Customers all have different experiences that make up their background.  Individual experience is often related in the terms of degrees, certifications, and/or years of involvement in a particular thing.

In a nutshell, customer experience (CX) is something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through by a customer with a certain company.  It is the product of an interaction between a company and a customer over the duration of their relationship.  This interaction includes their attraction, awareness, discovery, cultivation, advocacy, and purchase and use of a service.

CX is simply the result of everything that makes up the company’s product or service delivery, visible or not.

Problems with Customer Experience Today

Many companies today only focus on the ‘touchpoints’–the critical moments when customers interact with the company and its offerings to establish the customer experience.  This is often depicted in marketing as an experience map.  Often, this is a narrow focus on what is important to the customer’s satisfaction at specific moments and often creates a distorted picture of the overall experience.  This can lead a company to believe customers are happier with the company’s products and services than they actually are.  This approach also diverts attention from the bigger and more important picture–the customer’s end-to-end journey.[i]

An emphasis on Operational Excellence within an company as the driver of the CX is important to carefully consider.

Experience-based Operational Excellence

Operational Excellence (OpX), as an official business concept, has not been around very long and is often misconstrued.  The best way to look at OpX is to think of it as an end-to-end enterprise-wide management practice that aligns everything in the organization toward driving excellence.[ii]  From a perspective of the CX, OpX essentially represents an organization’s focus on all things that affect the customer’s experience (see Figure 1).

 X-Based OpX

Figure 1: Experience-based Operational Excellence

     Normally, companies view CX as a result of the product itself.  Some broaden the view into the processes that impact the product delivery and many companies see OpX as nothing more than the application of process management and Lean Six Sigma improvement processes.[iii]  In reality, true OpX represents the end-to-end enterprise-wise business management.  The ‘experience’ is at the very center of where the product, process, and employee intersect–this is what the customer sees and feels.  The entire experience is influenced by high-level company strategies, internal and external communication, and employee development.  Everything within the company is supported by an innovative layer that includes technology and information.

Thus, everything in the organization is important in the CX equation and focusing simply on touchpoints will represent a lack of true focus on the CX.  From a company’s perspective, there are several representative performance metrics that are important to the overall CX.  A company cannot simply look at metrics like sales and net promoter score, but must consider all company performance as critical to the CX.  There are many things that measure the experience, but can generally be referred to as satisfaction, sentiment, and relationship.


In summary, the traditional view of CX as a stand-alone activity represents a shortsighted view of what is important to the customer.  Although much of what makes up OpX is out of the customer’s view, it all leads to the CX and must be considered and aligned.

[i] Rawson, A., Duncan, E., & Jones, C. (2013). The Truth About Customer Experience. Harvard Business Review.

[ii] Boothe, W., & Lindborg, S. (2014). Handbook to achieve operational excellence: A realistic guide including all tools needed. Ft Myers FL: Reliabilityweb.com.

[iii] Crabtree, R. (2010). Driving operational excellence: Successful lean six sigma secrets to improve the bottom line. Livonia MI: MetaOps Publishing.


Four Types of Companies

When dealing with any organization, it is important to understand the things that are important to it and the employees. For instance, they may be focused on improving compliance or increasing revenue, but each company focuses on things that are important to it.

Knowing this when dealing with the company or their employees helps understand how they behave.

One way to examine any organization is through the lens of purpose versus process. When looking at organizations from this lens, there are four possibilities. The organization can be purposed-based, process-based, blended, or neither. How they are says a lot about how they operate.

Let me define what I mean by each of these types of organizations:

1. Purpose-based. A Purpose-based organization relies on a strong organizational purpose and reason for being. At the heart of what they do everyday is a greater reason everyone works there. Sometimes the organization defines this in their mission and vision statements and sometimes it is just known. Making money is NOT a greater purpose. A good example of a Purpose-based organization would be a philanthropic nonprofit or military organization. Their reasons for existence, even if not written down, are usually quite clear.

2. Process-based. Organizations that focus on perfecting processes to run an effective and efficient organization, are process-based. Strictly process-based organizations are focused on exceptional product or service delivery and not their reason for being. Money is normally very important to them.  Many commercial companies fall into this categor, more so in manufacturing.

3. Blended. A blended organization has a strong purpose or reason for being and operates with strong processes. Organizations with both are difficult to find, but can come from anywhere.

4. Neither. Many companies and organizations have neither a strong defined purpose nor effective and efficient processes. These organizations are quite easy to find because they are everywhere.

Being Agile


This is quickly becoming the management buzzword of 2015. Just another magic pill for industry to improve what they do with what they believe is little work.

Agile, as a process (yes folks, it is normally a process), usually starts in an organization with IT in software development. Soon after companies get the “agile bug” and they want everything to be agile. Lean quickly becomes the Agile way to be.

Agile, by itself, is just a word describing a state of being. I’m sure there are many definitions, but in its basic sense, Agile is being able to adjust, change, or respond quickly. It’s being resilient and flexible. Agile approaches are based on quick incrimental iterations. Agile, at its core, is organic and a state of being, not a program.

How do you become Agile?

Look at how you are organized and how you make decisions in your company. Is your company fairly flat and accepting of risk or do decisions need to be collaborated up through many levels and do they take a long time to obtain approvals?

Does your system, to get things done, have to go through annual processes with multiple approvals and significant roadblocks, or are employees empowered at the lowest levels to embark on projects when needed to make things happen?

Do you focus on managing change (I e., reactive) or are your employees ready and actively looking for change opportunities and making them happen?

Agile cannot become the way you are without significantly addressing your culture and operating models. If you are slow to make decisions and change as a company and if you are reactive to changes after they occur, then you are not Agile.

Employing Agile methodologies like Agile Software Development or Lean are only programs…they do not make you Agile as a company.

Being Agile means fundamentally changing everything about your company…

Will that work for your company’s culture?

Internal Service Providers vs External Service Providers

Here is a situation that keeps repeating itself everywhere I turn: internal vs external services.

When I am talking about service providers, I mean the activities that help the company run, but add no value to the product the customer buys. Things like HR, IT, Facilities Management, Finance, etc. There is a specific situation that plays itself out over-and-over again with these internal organizations.

A service–let’s use the example of payroll–is needed to pay employees of the company. When the company is starting out, employees are simply paid by the president or another random person working in the company. As the company grows, the workload increases and an office manager is hired to take care of these things. Over time an HR department is stood up with several related functions, payroll just being one of them.

Then, the company really starts to focus on their margin. Competition has stood up and offering the same cool ideas and the company needs to figure out how to cut costs to keep their prices down. The days of being the fat, dumb, and happy big kid on the block are gone. Normally cuts come from the services that support the company–places like HR. After all, they are non-value added in a lean environment, right and these people have been with the company for several years and now make pretty good salaries. Basically, they are a drain, and we need to keep them to a minimum.

Oh, the plight of the service organization…can’t live without em, but don’t want to pay them.

Because they are lean and mean (and maybe mad), the services that they always provided to the company start to get harder to accomplish. The company is growing, but their office is not. The results of their work suffer and it takes longer for them to do stuff. The company (internal customers) starts to get frustrated with the poor service. In some cases the company has become so big that no one even knows how this service is even done or who does it.

In order to keep up, the payroll service starts creating self-service capabilities to ease their workload. Essentially they start outsourcing what they do to the customer. They sell this as a positive thing, but it adds time and complexity to the employee and removes the level of expertise that the service was hired for. Imagine the frustration that is setting in.

Next, the internal customer, frustrated with long waits, lack of and poor service, and having to do many things themselves, decides to take matters in its own hands. The thing is, now the company is so big, that everyone has their own budget and can do what they want. So, factions of the company hire their own payroll person or even department. Of course this person doesn’t do everything but they start taking on the roles that the official department should be doing, but isn’t being very effective at. At first, the original payroll department doesn’t have a problem with this…good for them. But then people start questioning what they do, versus what this new person is doing and why are they even needed?

Next step, the payroll department figures out that payroll is their job and demand that the people doing the work in the company all work under the same department. There is a big effort to consolidate all these new positions paid for by the internal customers and the payroll department becomes big enough to handle the workload again. The problem is, these employees are now part of the payroll department and service everyone under the same flawed systems that was causing the problem in the first place. Internal customers quickly get upset because they lost their personalized service and the company decides, in its annual planning activity, that the payroll department is a good place to cut staff because it has become “too big.”

Again, the frustration sets in, and the next thing you know ABC Payroll Services, an outsourced payroll service, finds its way into the company. It might be a small engagement at first. In some cases, the payroll department itself might outsource non-core, busy-work functions to them. The thing is, they specialize in payroll, do it for many companies, and have cheaper labor that less benefits. Suddenly everyone is questioning the value (i.e., cost and ROI) the payroll department brings when this new and very efficient and effective service provider is doing such a good job for very little money.

To save money, the payroll executive decides to quietly outsource their whole department, saving a job for themselves to “oversee” the activity.

Are you an internal service provider to a company? What value do you bring to your company? Have you outsourced yourselves through customer self service? Are you already challenged by someone else doing part of your work?

This story is played out over-and-over again with every type of service in companies. There are ways to combat this, but many do not see them. Consider the situation above and what the service provider could do to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Process Improvement and Agile

Agile is quickly becoming the accepted method for project management these days. Once organizations start moving toward agile projects, quickly they want everything delivered in an agile manner. This has led many to ask how process improvement and agile work together.

One of the first misconceptions is that agile is not a process. Of course it is…there is a process flow in agile, just like any other project management approach. Agile has a set of repetitive steps to gather epics and stories and perform iterations. Without a process (series of steps), how would you effectively train agile to others and ensure everyone is doing it right and the same? Yes, agile is a process.

So process improvement can take a long time and often does not feel very agile. If your organization is moving to an agile environment, how does process improvement move there too?  Well, in process improvement, there are three ways to become more agile: proper project scoping and transfer, rapid improvement events (known by many names), and true lean/continuous improvement. The following briefly discusses all three.

Process Improvement Projects.  Running an improvement project using a formal methodology normally follows a waterfall approach, whether it be DMAIC, DMADV, PDCA, or whatever alphabet soup approach you use. Waterfall, as anyone agile will tell you, is not agile! The problem with these projects is they can take a long time to get to root cause and implemented solutions that the lead is confident will solve the business problem. Want it bad, get it bad…right? However, if you take that huge ‘boil the ocean’ problem from your sponsor/client and scope it down into a single area, you can get to an initial solution fairly quickly. Rik Taylor and Associates teaches a very specific project scoping tree that is very effective at getting to a manageable chunk of work. Then, Rik teaches students how to transfer that solution to quicker iterations in other areas, focused on the same problem. This turns the waterfall approach into a very agile-like iteration process. It is still not agile, but it is much quicker at getting to improvements and builds over time.

Rapid Improvement. This is know by many names, like Kaizen Blitz, Work Out, Action Work Out, Rapid, Rapid Improvement, etc. Although still a waterfall approach to process improvement, the actual improvement activity is compressed into a week or less of hands-on dedicated activity. The lead still needs to define and measure in preparation for the workshop event, but what most participants see is a week or less of activity. Also, the solutions, though generally lean-based, are identified and implemented very quickly. This can be a much more agile process.

Lean Shop. Lastly, working in a continuous improvement organization focused on business process management creates an environment and culture of agile improvement. See a problem, fix it, at the lowest level.  That is the nature of true continuous improvement. When you get to a true world of lean daily management backed by solid business process management, agile improvement iterations become the norm. True process improvement projects (waterfall) are only used for large end-to-end improvements.

Even though improvement is happening faster or constantly, it still does not mean it happens without a process. All problem solving must follow a process of understanding the problem, getting to a root cause, and improving. Failing to follow a repeatable approach will result in things like tampering, improper solutions, and improvements reverting back to the old way of doing business.

These are the ways that process improvement and agile are related. Remember, that a process, at its core, is nothing but a series of steps that allow for training, measurement, and consistency. Thus, agile follows a process just like everything else. Although all effective process improvement also follows a process, it can be performed in a very agile manner, getting to iterations of improvement quicker.

Kickstarter Project: Overcoming Organizational Myopia

Overcoming Organizational Myopia, stovepipes, sandboxes, short sightedness

At 2:30 pm, Central Time, on June 27, 2015, KS Project, Overcoming Organizational Myopia lifted off.  Overcoming Organizational Myopia will be a new nonfiction book about successfully breaking through stovepiped organizations to obtain organizational effectiveness.


The Short Story: I discovered that it really does not matter what company or organization I work with, they all have stovepipes.  What I learned is that they are a product of human nature.  The problem is that everyone wants to “break down the silos” as the typical management response. Unfortunately, this NEVER works! All you do is cause confusion and drive unproductivity as the people in your business seek to rebuild the stovepipes that make them feel secure.  This book is about breaking through the stovepipes to become an effective and efficient organization.  It respects the stovepipes and teaches you how to navigate through them using a consistent and systematic application of full-spectrum strategic and organizational methods.  The book is designed to provide you with situational examples so you can self-diagnose your organization.  Across nine areas, the book helps you identify problem areas and, like a business doctor, treat the root causes with solid business solutions.

Fix Your Roof When the Sun is Shining

Lisa Hershman, Denovo Group, has a phrase, “We never fix the roof when the sun is shining.”

I don’t know if I really need to explain the saying, but often businesses wait until stuff goes wrong to try to fix it. Then, it becomes an emergency break fix and it is done poorly because they lack sufficient time to really solve the problem.

The thing is, in business, fixing things when the sun is shining applies to everything. This basically means fixing things that really are not broken.

Off the top of my head, here are a few items that we neglect until it is too late and then do wrong because we are hard-pressed to simply get it done.

Planning. Strategic, operational, and even tactical planning, we are tremendously poor at in business, but specifically strategic planning is often overlooked. All too often, businesses look to strategic planning when they are having significant problems and they think it will solve their problems (the proverbial silver bullet). The problem is that strategic planning is a long range effort (hence strategic) and not designed to solve tactical problems.

Process improvement. All too often businesses let shoddy processes continue as the company grows and they ignore things like defects, poor customer service, and excessive process variance until too late. Then, when everything related to the process is falling apart, suddenly the business tries to solve the problems that took years to manifest in the process. What is worse, all too often all of the business processes are in the same state of disrepair and instead of just fixing one process, the business tries to create a full blown process organization and expect it to happen overnight.

Development. Businesses often look to training to solve a problem, but do not look at development when there isn’t a problem. If you are considering going into a leadership position, this is when you start learning about leadership, not six years after becoming a leader and you suck at it. However, we get very tactical when it comes to solving problems with training as the solution.

These are just a few examples of how businesses become very reactive to things and treat everything as a fire fighter versus a fire marshal. Living the advice of Lisa Hershman is very important for all of us.

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