Posts Tagged ‘process’

Human experience before process, please

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Increasingly, my work starts in a barren, Mad Max-like world of deadened emotions. Why do cops not feel the pain of a woman who’s reporting to them she’s been raped? Why does a bank advisor keep pushing credit cards on a customer already stressed by too much debt? Why does a car salesman use hard-selling tactics when buyers tell them at every opportunity they hate the car buying experience? Why does the head of R&D at a chip-designing firm not care about the rising suicide rate of its engineers pressured by competitive deadlines? Don’t they feel the pain they inflict onto others? Aren’t they made of flesh and blood like the people they inflict this pain onto?

Unavoidably, an exploration of these deeply emotional issues reveals a hyper-rationalization of everybody’s behavior through process. “The process made me do it” is the most common answer. Nested inside the process are the productivity and cost metrics associated with it. Let us look at the neighborhood cop and victim, for example. The neighborhood cop operates within the constraints of a quickly shrinking police budget in most cities of the world, and therefore has to move quickly from victim to victim, making sure that the paperwork will hold in court if the incident results in a court procedure. This becomes the legitimization for the cop’s heartless behavior (“it is in your best interest that we fill in this paperwork right so that your aggressor can be condemned in due time”), which, while true, is not exactly what a rape victim would like to hear immediately after the emotionally shattering episode. When the local police force initiates any kind of lean, quality or reengineering effort in this area, it is likely to be framed as: “how do we make the incident reporting effort more efficient?”

From this moment on, the effort is doomed. The project will start with a map of the reporting process. A visual representation of each step in the process will highlight each “pain point” for the protagonists. Each “pain point” becomes a narrow view of everybody’s experience in that particular process, leading to some lame recommendations such as “we need for the cop to be trained in sensitivity” or “we should give the victim the address of a local rape victim association”.

Instead, the redesign should start with the mutual sharing of their experience by the cop and the victim, and have them co-create new interactions between them that would help both parties, not only in the context of incident reporting, but to make the experience of life more meaningful on both sides. This constitutes the “experience before process” principle. Starting with the experience of these two humans of flesh and blood will take them to dramatically different places, and may involve the connection between them long before and long after the crime, the relationship between the police force and their community, potentially involving the demographic make-up of the police force to resemble the community they supervise, the career path of the cops, and the family and social environment of the victim. Starting from this rich terrain, they will identify together new ways to work together, which may or may not have anything to do with paper work and the crime reporting process.

Particularly key to the “experience before process” principle is the attention paid to the experience of the cop. Reducing the cop’s pain to the narrow process that has been defined will lead to focus on the administrative burden of having to do the paper work (admittedly a real issue), but the real pain may be about carrying too much gear, not trusting the beat cop who is with them, not feeling safe in the neighborhood they patrol, or feeling they will be left on their own if they use their weapon prematurely. Similarly, the victim’s experience is typically reduced to the moment of pain following the crime, while the problems would require tackling everything that preceded the actual rape (was there a pattern?) and everything that will follow (emotional support after the reporting).

In business, we have been so trained in the way of process that we forget business is about the human experience. The key here is to view the cop and the victim as two people who have the power to reinvent their relationship. If we can get these two people to co-create a new relationship in a live workshop, then we can do it between a community of cops and a community of victims, providing we give them the tools to engage with each other and the community-organizing structure to co-develop the best solution for their neighborhood.

And by the way, my own experience is connected to the experience of the people I consult to or teach for. My life became a lot more meaningful when I discovered that formulating my “expert” ideas on optimizing the paperwork in the police incident reporting process was a lot less rewarding than helping cops and victims figure out together how to change their life. My job is now to connect the experience of people together by activating empathy, and I am part of that chain of experience. People are a lot more imaginative when they sense you’re interested in starting from their experience than from analytical picture of the process that throws them together. When people start sharing their experience with each other, they unavoidably come up with new interactions between them, which nearly always represent a better economic model for the organization that houses or serves them. At this intersection between the experiential and the economic lies the miracle of co-creation.

Guest blogging for Harvard Business Review and Front End of Innovation

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

I’m pleased to be a contributor to two blogs, and

As part of’s new series on “Creating a Customer-Centered Organization,” I wrote about the need for companies to design new and better customer interactions.

Experience Co-Creation

Many companies now have senior officers in charge of customer experience. The executives’ role is to define the attributes of the customer experience in partnership with their operational colleagues, organize the customer-satisfaction-measurement process against those attributes, and encourage remedial action wherever warranted. What they hardly ever have, though, is an approach to evolve the design of the customer experience, let alone create a new experience.

To develop a new customer experience, companies need a real-time engagement process that encourages customers and employees to devise new interactions between them and facilitates the emergence of innovative customer experiences.

Yes, this co-creation takes time, but there is no alternative. Each customer designs her own experience in the unique context of each interaction she has with the company. So when companies rely solely on market research to design the customer experience, the result is a manager-biased lowest common denominator of customers’ expectations.     More


On the Front End of Innovation Blog, linked to the FEI 2011 Conference, where I will be a keynote speaker on May 17, I listed seven words I’d like to see banned from the lingo of product development (with apologies to George Carlin).

Seven Words We Should Ban From the Product Development Language

The American stand-up comedian George Carlin had a routine entitled “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on TV.”

Here are seven dirty words I’d like to ban from the product development language:

1. process,
2. customer,
3. needs,
4. market research,
5. engineering,
6. product specifications and
7. idea management.

1. Process: the appearance of rigor conveyed by a flow chart representing product development on a wall, disguising a cesspool of messy interactions as a neatly flowing river.

In the classic company-centric view of business, product development people follow a process. In reality, there is no such thing as a product development process. Product development is a series of interactions. To state the obvious, the difference between a process and an interaction is that the latter flows in (at least) two directions. One should therefore not design product development processes, but product development engagement platforms inviting multiple constituencies to participate in the design, with the product development people acting as facilitators of those interactions.


Which came first: the process or the experience?

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

This week, I visited a manufacturer of electronics components that believes that process design and key performance indicators (KPI) are the key to its business success. In parallel, Harvard Business Review just asked me to write a blog entry for its website on the role of co-creation in customer experience. This led me to reflect on what comes first in business design: the process or the experience?

Most companies have been trained to think that processes are what matters most for corporate success, and that good processes generate good customer experience. In this view, process clearly comes first, and a good customer experience is the result. By contrast, co-creation starts with the broad experience of two of more people (customers and employees) and invites them to develop new processes or interactions between them that will result in new experiences for both. In co-creation, the human experience comes before the process (or the interaction).

Back to my visit of the semiconductor manufacturer: I first thought the large wall displays were integrated circuit designs with red and green coloring, but I was told they were actually “trees of KPIs.” I think I saw a KPI tree in their bathroom urging me to do my business effectively. I asked one of the executives whether KPIs were always defined by management in top-down fashion, or an operator on a particular line or in an office could instead define her own “bottom-up” KPI. His answer: “Oh yes, we discuss those things all the time.” Upon pressing, he conceded that what could be discussed was the way to meet the top-down target, not the definition of the KPI itself from the vantage point of the operator.

In a subsequent private discussion with another executive at the same company, he started exhibiting some impatience. “What do you propose?” he asked. “That we ask every employee whether they like the goal we give them? This is not a popularity contest. We have to hit cost and volume targets.” I pointed out that my goal was the same as his, but the way to get there might be different. “I believe the best way to uncover new, innovative ways of lowering the cost of your operation or increasing throughput might be to tap into the individual experience of your operators and let them define new interactions between them – maybe between equipment manufacturers, suppliers, or your management team. You need a combination of a top-down and bottom-up process.” He clearly thought this was the most absurd thing he’d ever heard.

The notion that the personal quest of a fabrication line operator for a self-interested, better experience of work might provide the most direct line to a productivity improvement for the plant was so foreign to him that he could not even conceive of the connection. He could only think of my suggestion as a gratuitous expedition into an experiential la-la land and a demagogical bridge to nowhere.  I pointed out to him that it is a sad place where business goals and aspirations to experiential well-being are structurally incompatible. “The business world is not a happy place,” he told me, as we parted.

At the risk of veering toward “angelism,” as French people call it, I believe there is something inherently good about placing the human experience at the center of business design. Human experience is rich, varied, and unbounded, while processes are made of blue steel. Who wants to live in a business world of cold rationality? Experience before process, please.


Does Apple do co-creation?

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Perhaps the most frequently asked question when it comes to co-creation is whether Apple is the best or the worst example of co-creation. The answer, of course, is yes.

If we think of co-creation as the process of involving customers and employees in the design of the next generation product, the co-definition of any customer-facing process, or God forbid, the opening of the firm’s governance to outside stakeholders, Apple is the worst student in the class. “More secretive than Apple, you die”, a French trade journalist once wrote, frustrated by the KGB-like approach of the firm. Give them an “F” in the “Co-Creation as a Process class”! (Dear Steve Jobs, you may be devastated reading this evaluation, but don’t despair; I have encouraging words for you later on).

If we define co-creation as the extent through which the customer experience that is delivered day in, day out by Apple allows a two-way contextualization of that experience, Apple fares better. The play list on my iPod or iPhone is uniquely mine. I may not have designed iTunes (Steve Jobs and his team did that), but iTunes sure allows me to create a personalized play list, so much so that my two sisters emphatically acknowledge this play list is “uniquely me” (this opinion came with a recommendation not to publish it on iTunes, but rather to keep it “exclusive to the family”; my sisters can be over-possessive sometimes). My ability to browse through products at the Apple Store on my own terms, or to dialogue with the repair folks at the Genius Bar, are also quite co-creative. Of course, many elements remain ferociously controlled by Apple, including price and distribution access. In the Allowing Customers to Co-Create their Experience class, Apple might get something like a “B-“ or a “B.” (Told you, Steve, it would get better).

With the advent of the App store, Apple has decidedly crossed the co-creation Rubicon. Being old enough to remember the early insistence of Apple on keeping software proprietary, it is nothing short of remarkable that Apple would allow independent software writers to sell their products on the iPhone platform today. They now even advertise the App store as the key feature for the iPhone, for goodness’ sake! In the “Getting Partners to Co-Create with the Firm class”, Apple may well come close to an “A.”

O.K., Steve, you’ve been improving steadily. Now, work on that Co-Creation as a Process thing. You have all the makings of a good businessman. I believe in you.