I often work with companies helping them develop- and introduce- new products. There’s a litany of zany ideas- at least that’s what they were called when we first introduced them.
But, the same thing happens with process. We use the same techniques (we call it ‘there-is-no-box’ [we are way beyond out-of-the-box] thinking) to help companies truly distinguish themselves from their competitors with how they do, what they do, and often why they do it that way.
Over the years, we’ve honed our processes- and our analysis of firms to determine what may be the right approach. Even so, we rarely achieve a walk-off. (Yes, I’m a Phillies Phanatic. Given that, you should recognize the Phils are a far cry from sending a batter in, having him hit a home run on the spot, and win the game.)
And, that’s true for most entities. Innovation- the development of new processes and products- is an incremental process. (You know- the “it takes a village”, the concept where every development builds on the one before it.) This means our job is to accelerate the failure cycle rate- to insure we can reach the optimum concept or design as quickly (and as cheaply) as possible.
When we are dealing with a professional services firm (as opposed to a manufacturing entity, i.e., lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers), we have a big problem. Our processes don’t scale well- and change cycles are notoriously long. This means we have to systematize the entire change process.
We’ve long known that 3 is a magic number in learning. We need to see something, read something, and recite something to hope that it becomes part of our natural thought processes. That same concept works when we want to change the process of a service firm.
Our first step is to see what ISN’T working- as well as what is. Often, the easiest thing is to make sure we can stop doing what doesn’t work. There is also the need to improve what is working and make sure more folks are doing what they do better- and faster.
(Recently, we ran across a TED Talk given by Dr. Jeff DeGraff of the Ross School of Business (University of Michigan). He also has a TV program called Innovation. Here’s an example of DeGraff’s thinking. His concept is similar to our approach.)
Of course, we need the firm’s staff and manager see the process change we’ve outlined. We explain it- and why that process will make a difference. (Dr. DeGraff calls this stage the ‘Emerge’ step. I admit that sounds a lot better than our terminology- and we are going to start using it.)
Now, it’s time for the staff (and executive) members to begin acting on this new process. We’re still around, honing the process, making sure any rough edges get cleaned up, so the firm can continue the change- and improve on it- long after we are gone. (‘Converge’ according to DeGraff.)
As you can see, we don’t introduce our new practices to the whole firm at once. We confine it to small teams or a person or two- to make sure that it’s a “do-able” change.
To be honest, this step sometimes requires us to go back to the drawing board. (Or, the conference table.) To come up with an appropriate process, because our “great idea” only seems to be providing 60, 70, or 80% of the benefits we hoped it would. And, we then effect both of these two steps again. Because we confined the “roll-out” to small groups or just a few folks, the whole firm doesn’t get spooked by a small failure. (We have no magic wands- just great knowledge, experience, and quick-thinking.)
Once we are satisfied that we’ve attained the desired results, we work with those who’ve “seen and done” to teach others. Because by explaining how and why they are making the change, the entire process becomes internalized and their own. We also can extend the change to envelop more and provide better results. (‘Diverge’ according to DeGraff.)
The amazing thing? A few months later- or a year later- everyone thinks this change happened overnight. Yeah, right.