Service Workflow Continuous Improvement

There are many ways to approach improvements in a service process. The provocation for a design session can start by asking the design team about what they have seen as exemplar experiences for the customer in the current business operation. The team can re-articulate a particular situation in terms of what was “exemplar” for the customer in the listening phase of the process, in the negotiation phase of the process and so forth until completing the full cycle of the service workflows. Any articulation of a customer’s “good experience” can offer something useful in term of an intelligent use of conversational scripts with the customer, in terms of simple tools, or in terms of new deliverables.
Different productivity collectives will propose slightly different angles to improve a service. Lean approach people will propose a basic distinction between Value Added Activities (VAA) and Non Value Added Activities (NVAA); Six Sigma approach people will propose a DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analise, Improve, Control) methodology to address uncontrolled variance in the process outcome. Open approach people will propose an early involvement of a large number of networked individual contributors in a transparent meritocratic environment following an iterative design and development process.
Whatever the approach, the key issue is to keep in mind that when dealing with service processes improvements; the unities of action to be considered are recurrent exchanges of contextualized commitments between business roles (customers & performers). Information processes, and Material/Industrial processes will be integrated such that they expand possibilities to deliver value to different customer constituencies (end-customers, investors, shareholders, employees, non-human constituencies, and other relevant audiences) across the service process and the business.
The overall rational of the change strategy/improvement strategy is often articulated in a Business Case Document.
Improving an end2end service process demand a work stream horizontally and vertically coordinated.
Horizontal coordination is needed because very often causes of bad performance in a particular section of the process are rooted in the early upstream side of the process -or vice versa- and there is no way to achieve a new level of performance without taking in account the whole picture. In a service process what matters is end2end performance, and what doesn't matters are spectacular partial performances that do not affect the end customer experience.
Vertical coordination across the organizational hierarchy is needed, because as any improvement o innovation investment made by a company, there are multiple constituencies making assessments of the amount invested, the risks, and the value delivered. Vertical coordination is often articulated as Change Strategy -Conception (diagnosis & provocation), Design (unity, component, assemblers), Development (prototype & pilot), Production (roll out, institutionalize)- and a set of Project Management/Customer Relationship practices.
Horizontal service processes can be improved by working in multiple layers, such as business roles skills, management practices, or technological environment. The diagram below shows some examples.




Roles Skills
Levels of Competences in specific domains of action: Critical skills for customer's role and for performer's role.
Training, on-the job coaching, forums, wikis, learning teams, games, and other forms of social software enhanced practices.
Roles Profile
Adjustments to role requirements. Educational background. Experience in related fields. Management style, cognitive emotions and mood.
Functional rotation and experimentation, emerging market trends, adjustments to roles profiles.
Management Systems
Improvements in the MIS, operational meetings, CI meetings.
New practices in meetings, improved MIS, expansion of trust.
Technolgy & IT
Networks of equipment. IT environment. Automation.
Iterative improvements of technological environment.
SW Adjustments
Improvements in support workflows, coping practices, simplification, moving from lineal to convergent coordination.
Adjusting current service process structures, roles, and practices

Often, serious work on improvements opens up pathways for innovation leaps. Delivering significant improvements allows service teams to gain confidence in their emerging approach, discover relevant obstacles and leverages, and get a better sense of how to escalate changes across a particular business.

Along the years, business practitioners have emphasized the need of bringing a very broad context to examine a particular business practice. One legendary example was T. Ohno’s insight about replenishment practices in supermarkets as a way of handling work-in-progress in car manufacturing, what gave birth to the Just-in-Time practices. In this example Ohno went largely beyond the boundaries of his own industry. He cross-appropriated a practice that was exactly dealing with one of his pivotal concerns, in a totally different landscape. Often this pealing-the-onion process start with - and moves away from – quality standards inside the particular company and industry you are working in. Then the horizon is expanded a bit to bench marking with related industries. Then expanded again to best practices in other industries, and finally expanded to emergent core competences in new market spaces.