The System Includes the Customer

As a follow on to my last blog post about defining and stabilizing processes, I always find it interesting that firms oftentimes do not include the customer when defining their business systems. Customers are the lens through which processes should be viewed. If you do not adopt a customer-centric perspective when defining processes, then it becomes that much harder to rationalize why business processes should be improved.

There are many methods available for defining and visualizing processes – value stream maps, process maps, and the like. The approach that myself and colleague Angelo Lyall prefer, though, is to help a firm build a simple model of what we call its Customer Oriented Processes (or COPS for short). A customer oriented process is a process which faces out towards, and interacts with, an external customer. This external customer may be the person who buys the firm’s final products and services, but it may also include other customers, real or potential, of a firm: persons who require marketing and sales information or support; persons who require designs, quotes or estimates; persons who require product support and warranty service; suppliers with whom the firms receives input materials; transportation and logistics firms who deliver the product; etc.

Viewed this way, an organization might find that it can define a set of key business processes that interact with, and serve, external customers. The connections and interactions between these processes can then be defined and a detailed process model built up where each COP is exploded out into its constituent elements, including customer requirements, inputs and outputs, resources, work methods and procedures, etc. Managing and improving these core business processes then becomes the objective of process management within the organization.

The benefit of this approach is that it is a customer-first way to look at an organization’s business system. Customer value for each COP can be defined and then each COP can be managed and improved in a way that maximizes value creation and delivery to the customer. It also recognizes that a firm has not just one customer, but many. This enhances an organization’s ability to create and deliver value to all types of customers, not just those who buy final products and services.

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