We sit with our clients and practice something that sounds simple, but ends up being complicated: we practice thinking about work not in terms of who does it or what they do but in terms of the value the work creates.

One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.
— Charles Fort, Lo!

Take a process by which you serve the people you are here to serve. Pick any process; it doesn't matter which one. Your choice might be driven by your awareness of processes that are performing poorly. Your choice might be driven by complaints from staff or the public. (Complaints are one of an organization's most important and typically underutilized resources.)

Take a process and ask:

  • Who is this process for?
  • What important or useful thing do these people get as a result of this work?

Your answers will identify the customer of this process and the value they get from the process. Once you have clarity and agreement around these things, you can dig into some analysis.

  • Who does the work inside this process?
  • Who else is affected by this work, or supports this work?

Our experience is that once folks start thinking like this, they identify groups of people who are oriented around a common concern—creating a particular kind of value for a particular kind of of customer—but who might have different employers, or be colleagues separated by org charts, chains of command, or other siloed organizational structures. We call these the internal customers of the process. Every time there is a handoff, inbox, conveyance, or form, there is an opportunity to provide better, easier, less error-prone service—and these opportunities to improve the experience for internal customers ultimately lead to improvements that help the external customer (the person the process is for), as well.

The next step might be to get the people who do the work into the same room for a few hours and lay out the process. When doing this, I always look forwards to "now that I see it" moments: moments when people discover that some specific annoyance in their work turns out to be critical for someone else that contributes to the process. There are also "now that I see it" moments where people realize that things are being done for no reason that contributes to customer value, but rather because that's the way we've always done it, or because we designed the new computer system by copying the old computer system which copied the paper-based system.

From there, you can take some of the opportunities for improvement and figure out how to test them out in a simple, direct way.

  • If we made this change, would it help us create more value for customers with the same effort?
  • If we made this change, would it help us create the same value for customers with less effort?

Customer value. It's something that sounds simple, is complicated, but, with practice, becomes simple again. However the idea strikes you, we think it's worth looking at your critical processes through this lens.