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.


When You Need A Swiss Army Knife in Business

Lately I have met several organizations that are at a crossroads in their own evolution. Many companies realize the importance of things like strategy, change management, process improvement, strategic communication, and employee engagement. However, these organizations are making tactical decisions on the direction of these areas versus truly looking at this from a strategic perspectives.

Instead of hiring several different individuals or creating separate teams all focused on doing the same thing, companies today should should focus on bringing all their Operational Excellence activities under one team working directly for the CEO or President of the company.  This group should be led by a senior leader that sits at the same table as the companies other leaders.

This Swiss Army Knife professional–SVP/VP, Operational Excellence–should manage things like:
– Strategy development, execution, and change
– Performance optimization through process, product, and functional continuous improvement
– Strategic communication inside and outside the organization
– Strategic human capital management to include education, training, and development and employee satisfaction, commitment, and engagement
– Information and innovation engagement

This team does not need to be big…depending on an organization’s size, it could be as small as three or four people.  However, it should leverage other support areas throughout the organization, like Human Resources, Finance, IT, etc. These organizations would not report to the position, but work with the position.

Today, some organizations have some or all of these activities occuring, but they are scattered across the organization and have very little singular direction. By bringing the functions together into a small effective team, an organization is equipped to deal with the challenges of today and the future.

Of course, the leaders of these types of organizations have to have a solid understanding of all these functions at strategic, operatiomal, and tactical levels and not focused on creating some massive sandbox of people with various skills. They need to be highly skilled with a focus on lean and mean.

Blogging Weekly with National Graduate School

john knottsHappy Cinco de Mayo!

I am now a weekly guest blogger with National Graduate School.  Please check out my blog there.

Follow us as we explore how to build a culture of continuous improvement.

Building a culture of continuous improvement isn’t easy and can take a considerable amount of time.  However, it’s very possible and results can be felt within weeks of embarking on the journey.  Over John’s 25 plus years of experience, he’s developed a model rooted in strategy and designed to build this culture in any organization.  Join John and National Graduate School as we weekly explore this model and ways to drive this type of culture.  We look forward to your thoughts and inputs along this journey, so join us and watch for our future blogs about once a week with the tag line “CIC.”


Department of Miss-Defense — What Needs Fixing

Department of Miss-DefenseI am absolutely sick of the news today.  Being a retired Air Force member, it kills me to see the constant erosion of benefits for retired and current service members.  If you haven’t been watching, you better start waking up.  The bigger news is the regular lack of a balanced budget from Congress, Sequestration, Government Shut Downs…it seems to go on and on.

I, being who I am, like to blame Congress and specifically the Administration.

However, the real blame, especially for the Military budget and financial woes rests squarely on the Department of Miss-Defense.

Yep, that’s right, you may not have ever heard about this super secret and extremely covert military organization, but many of the senior military leadership (military and civilian) work for this department and don’t even know it.

Day-in and day-out the same people complain about the same things I do– Congress and the Administration.

The problem is, they’re doing it to themselves.

Step back and take a look at our military machine–the Department of Defense.  What if I told you that, because of its design, its fraught with waste and redundancy.  I mean waste and redundancy that is so big you could pilot a Carrier Group through it.

If the Military–specifically the leadership–really cared about reducing their bottom line and not taking it out of the promised benefits to veterans or future benefits that will destroy the all volunteer force, they need only open their eyes.

Today every single military branch, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard have redundant support services that help keep the military engine running.  Things like information technology, human resources, transportation, and logistics.  For the most part, these support services do the exact same thing.  The only real difference is HOW they do it.  This redundancy of effort across the branches has created bloated organizational fiefdoms within each branch that drain on the military might we desire to prosecute war with.

Want to fix Miss-Defense?

Eliminate the support services from the branches and create one support service department.  Throw out all the antiquated systems and approaches and create one that supports all the branches.  A large portion of it can be immediately outsourced and another large part civilianized, leaving the military part for deployment requirements.

This would significantly reduce the Tail in the Tooth-to-Tail ratio that the military is always concerned about.

Won’t work you tell me…Bull!

Take a look at Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) and tell me it won’t work.  They’ve already done it.  As a matter of fact, I would build this support department off of DFAS and eliminate DFAS–it’s just another support service.

This is only the start.  There are many other support type roles that I’m not even mentioning, like planning, military equipment (land, air, marine, and space) maintenance, public affairs, etc.  The list is long.

What I propose is a complete reengineering of the Department of Miss-Defense.  The branches focus on delivering the military might and all support services focus on supporting the delivery of that military might under one department.

Part of the reason Joint Forces Command even exists is to coordinate this support–let them focus on simply coordinating the offense and leave the support to the expert.

Think of the reductions in cost and the developments in effectiveness and innovation if you went this route?

Whatever happened to Apple?

So Steve Jobs is gone and what happened to Apple?

I haven’t seen anything new come out of Apple in a couple years…I think the last “big” thing was a color case for the iPhone 5?

Can one person have that much influence over an entire organization? Was Steve Jobs the innovative wiz behind Apple or did he simply bring out the innovative in everyone else?

This is a great lesson for those who aspire to lead and who wish to leave a legacy. How do you build the skills in people to do what is needed? When you leave–and we all leave eventually, what will you leave behind?

When I look at Google today, with Google Glasses and their Autonomous Vehicle, I can definitely see who is leading the pack with innovation. I guess Simon Sinek was right about Apple and Steve Jobs…he was the Why for Apple.

Without him, they only know the How and the What.

Applying Innovative Thinking in Strategic Planning

InnovationStrategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail.  Learn how to see your plan through to success.  The strategic planning process is where leaders of an organization establish the vision of the organization’s future and then develop and implement the actions necessary to achieve that future.  This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

“There is No Box” When it Comes to Strategic Planning.

Have you ever read the book, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There?”  Basically, the premise of that book is that your current actions and thinking that have moved you to where you are today, will not be the same actions and thoughts you will need to get you to where you want to go in the future.  Thus, in strategic planning, doing things and thinking the same way won’t help you achieve your vision.

Everything up to this point in the How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment section of my Think Big, Take Small Steps blog has been designed to feed new thoughts for leaders to consider when designing a new strategy.  Let’s review the topics over the last several weeks and see how they are feeding new and innovative thought processes when it comes to strategic planning:

All of these different blogs were designed to spur innovative thought around the strategic planning process–specifically when assessing an organization.  In my first blog, I said, “If a plan lacks focus on fixing organizational problems and overcoming barriers to the organization’s vision it is not built on the realities of the environment impacting the organization.”  A complete and proper organizational assessment is the first of five ways to ensure your strategic plan will be successful.

However, the last seven blogs have really been focused on the as-is organization–what’s currently going on.  Aside from the Opportunities and Threats parts of the SWOT, we’ve done little to think about the future environment.  Now is the time, before you bring leaders into a room to facilitate strategic discussion, you need to think outside the box about what the future could look like.

In this case, I’m recommending you throw away the box!

In the next phase of strategic planning, you’re going to bring leaders into an offsite (or onsite if that works for you) and you want to be as prepared as possible for that event.  Thus, you want to do some future vision thinking of your own prior to that event.  Leaders have limited time and many of them don’t designate a lot of their time to strategic thought anyway (it’s a fact of life).  So, make sure you are fully armed when they walk into that room.

This is how you provide some innovative thought to the organizational assessment.

  1. Sit down with your newly created SWOT Assessment–specifically the TIPSs that I explained in my previous blog.  If you have a small team helping you, then you can do this as a brainstorming session.  Write one of the TIPS on the top of a piece of paper–butcher block if you are brainstorming as a group.
  2. Spend 30 minutes simply writing down any ideas that come to mind around how you would leverage and/or solve to that TIPS.
  3. After 30 minutes, reread the ideas and look for a possible thread of reasoning that could be formulated into an objective for an organization.  Write that down at the bottom of the page.
  4. Move onto the next TIPS and continue until you have gone through every TIPS in a similar manner.
  5. Then transcribe the single threads down on a separate sheet and look for ways these support each other or can be combined.  Write down your final thoughts.

This idea generation is very helpful for you to plan out your strategic planning session.  If you find some big problem or challenge that the organization needs to come to grips with that comes out of this exercise, then you can appropriately plan your offsite to address it.

For example, I have worked with a few organizations that have issues with properly defined roles and responsibilities.  In order to better understand the issue the organization was faced with, I planned, in a specific session, the listing out of roles and responsibilities, doing a RACI diagram, or other similar type sessions.

You might also discover through your envisioning that the leadership, or the organization as a whole, needs more education on something critical to the success of your strategic plan.  This could lead you to hold some type of just-in-time training event or exercise or to bring in a specific guest speaker to enlighten the leadership.

What if you discovered that the leadership team itself is dysfunctional?  This would feed the need to hold some type of team building event in correlation with the strategic planning session.  This could even drive the location of the offsite.  You might use some type of personality assessment tool (e.g., Meyers Briggs) with the leadership team to get them to think better about how to work together.

Perhaps you have stumbled across a whole new opportunity for the organization that the leadership hasn’t even realized.  You might want to plan a tour prior to the strategic planning offsite to expose the leaders to this opportunity to get them thinking about it.

The purpose of providing this line of innovative thought prior to the strategic planning event is to ensure you get the most value out of the event itself.  I’ve worked with a leadership team that didn’t even understand what strategic planning was.  The first thing we did was an awareness session on strategic planning.  I’ve also worked with an organization whose key leader really liked the book, “Good to Great.”  So, we had all the leaders on the team read the book and we held sessions where different leaders facilitated discussion sessions around concepts from the book.

Don’t think about strategic planning as simply bringing leaders into a conference room and coming up with a mission and vision statement.  Strategic Planning is a thoughtful activity that leaders embark on to understand their as-is, envision the to-be, and develop new ideas to get there.  Doing the same thing that they’re doing today won’t get them there.  Your job in the organizational assessment phase is to ensure the right thoughts are occurring during the time you have all the leaders gathered together to think and act strategically.

So, 70% of all plans fail to some level; however, by following these guidelines you can help ensure your strategic plan will be one of the 30% successes that everyone reads about.

Related Links:

  1. http://bluesummitstrategy.com/creativity/creativity-in-strategic-planning/2007/
  2. http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/good-to-great.html
  3. http://innovative-thought.com/
  4. http://www.amazon.com/What-Got-Here-Wont-There/dp/1401301304

What is “visionary?”

Last night I had a great conversation with a good friend of mine about visionaries. We talked at length about Hinduism, Maslow, and people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (of all things). See, Gus is a Mac and I am a PC, so we often have some very interesting talks…especially over wine. This one centered around how visionaries impact innovation. Many years ago, I wrote a paper titled, “Formula for Innovation.” I built the notion that aside from Necessity, Risk is a major player in Innovation. That got us talking about how Vision … seeing several moves ahead like a chess player … can impact Innovation.

What are your thoughts regarding the “factors” that influence Innovation and how?

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