Tedious and lengthy internal processes delay the delivery of value to end-users and lower your competitiveness. The bigger your organization, the more likely you are to encounter this problem. Visual collaboration tools like EventStorming can help with kickstarting the necessary focus shift.

Internal Competition vs External Excellence

Once an organization reaches a certain critical mass, people stop looking outwards. Instead, the focus shifts to an internal competition: outdoing that other department.  When this is the case,  our “definition of done” or standard of  “quality” becomes anything that exceeds what our colleagues have set. As a consequence, we find it acceptable to have a time-to-market of six to twelve months between a feature’s request and realization. Not only do we accept this; we’re proud of it.  Our “quick” turnaround time makes us the best student in the class within our organization, and we’re praised for achieving results–until we’re not.

Like when we suddenly realize our competitor is taking feature requests on Twitter and has a TTM of just a few weeks (or even days)!

 

Customer Satisfaction Rate Defines Your Success

The only measure of our success is customer satisfaction. Are our customers using the new feature we built? Is the feature solving a real-life problem for them? Is it making the experience more enjoyable and are they more likely to use our services again?

Unfortunately, in many of the companies that I’ve encountered, customer satisfaction isn’t the primary driver. Instead, ticking off a requirements box is. But if you only care about “your step” in the process leads, you eventually get development teams that are disconnected from their end-users, figuratively and literally. These teams don’t organize quick feedback loops, or, in some cases, don’t even know how the customers are using the software they built.

Focus on the End Result, Not on the Process

One of the most extreme cases of focusing on the process instead of the result that I have seen was one that involved a public tender. Some outdated components of a critical system were in dire need of replacement. A project manager was assigned, a task force was formed, many hours were spent on discussing requirements, and companies were invited to submit their bids. When the task force presented their progress, they were happy to inform everyone that the tender was going well. They were on track with achieving their primary goal: selecting the right supplier.

They seemed to have forgotten that, once they had achieved this goal, precisely zero lines of code would have been written. They had already spent eighteen months (and a lot of money) so far, but their stakeholders agreed that they were making progress–because they were following the process, they were doing the right thing and achieving their goals.

The only group that did not agree were the end-users. Two years into the project, they were still using the old components which reduced their efficiency. They did not understand why it was taking so long. Nobody had asked them anything yet. Moreover, because a project had already been started to replace these old components, they were not being developed any further, so they’d gone into “maintenance mode,” as they called it.

In the end, it turned out that the technical challenge was not significant. It took a development team less than two months of hard work to replace the old components with state-of-the-art software.

A little less conversation, a little more action

We should focus less on talking and more on acting, but not until we’ve gotten our act together and set our priorities straight. Very few companies can afford to spend 80–90% of their TTM on any kind of internal process before producing tangible value for the end-user. And until the software is up and running, there’s no value. The only reason why the task force in the example above could get away with the ridiculous timeline is that they worked in the public sector. Their end-users had no other choice and were not allowed to switch suppliers.

Private companies don’t have that luxury. Your customers will walk away if you can’t provide what they want, or if your competitor can do it cheaper.

Wake up, folks—it’s 2019. It takes five minutes to open a new bank account. Google just acquired a European banking license. Amazon has dipped its toe in the insurance market. You can no longer get away with saying “we work Agile because we have defined two-week sprints” if you’re not consistently delivering value at the end of each sprint. Remember: no value is created until the software is up and running.

Before we can take “a little more action,” we need to press the reset button on our (interdepartmental) processes.

It’s not about who is right, it’s about what is the right thing to do

The rest of the world doesn’t care about your internal processes, or why they take as long as they do. They care about the value you produce and whether or not it’s relevant to them.

Changing existing processes isn’t an easy thing to do, especially when more than one department is involved. That’s because it often becomes a discussion about emotions—”This is my process. It works. Why change it?” Criticizing a process becomes equal to criticizing those who created or execute it.

Fortunately, there’s at least one solution to every problem. In the past year, we’ve used EventStorming on several occasions to detach those emotions from the subject at hand.

EventStorming brings everyone into the same room so we can all take a step back, and look at a topic together. Armed with loads of stickies and an empty wall, we set about mapping all the events that occur in a process. After that, we start talking about them. We try to explain why we do what we do, and we identify bottlenecks. Our shared goals are to create alignment, a common understanding, and to find opportunities for improvements — not huge steps; just small iterations.

In our experience, this has worked surprisingly well. It resets the relationship, creates positive energy, and gives the group one common goal: being better than our external competitors.