The great 'Outside-In' debate.

Adam Deane has started an interesting debate over at his blog on the subject of outside-in.

His comment - and one I tend to align with - is that outside-in is a nebulous concept and one which is very difficult to pin down in real life. He states that he has been unable to identify examples of where Outside-in has specifically benefited an organisation. The companies often noted as being OI exemplars (Best Buy, Apple, Southwest airlines) are also ones that benefit from having a good underlying product. Therefore is this a case where OI has given them the edge or where the edge has been there already and OI has piggy-backed into it?

My personal example - and one which I stated In the comments to Adam's post - is Ryanair. They are deemed to have successfully emulated good customer outcomes through OI, and yet they have the worst service of any airline I have ever flown. Craig, The Process Ninja, comments that customer outcomes and customer service are not the same thing, and maybe this is where my understanding falls down. But is it just the case then, that OI is merely any BPM practice which looks at the customer when creating processes?

Regardless of this I would recommend you head over to Adam's blog, have a read of the entry and decide for yourself whether OI is a genuine BPM discipline, or just a different way of looking at something that's already there. Make sure, too, to read The Process Ninja's rebuttal.

I'm really, really on the fence about OI. If I look at something like Six Sigma (or 8 Omega) I can see a strict methodology and something that I can put my hands on and say 'This is ....(fill in the blanks)". But if I try to do the same for Outside-In I can't. The Process Ninja himself states that "Whilst I agree that outside-in is a philosophy, it is more than that and I understand Adam's frustration in not being able to get a hold of "a methodology". In the deep recesses of my mind I can't help but think that OI is a generic term given to any company that happens to be doing well.

The other thing I can't seem to get over is that there doesn't seem to be any comment in the blog from anyone who is an OI guru. There are one or two comments from people who have done the training course, but nothing from the people who create and propagate this 'approach'. I would really like to get some impartial advice on this rather than comments which just tell me I'm wrong. The last thing we need is The Zealots coming into this with their "I'm right and you're wrong" approach.

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The TSA and their process

(DISCLAIMER: Whilst I used to be a very regular traveler both in Europe and the US, it is now almost 3 years since I took a flight anywhere so have not had to subject myself personally to any of the upgraded electronic security reviews. I have, in my time, been subject to the 'removal of belt, shoes and jacket' review as well as the 'open laptop and start it up', and the 'No liquids to be brought on board' review)

There is a lot of discontent brewing across the US - and possibly the rest of the world - in relation to the TSA scanners which use new-fangled technology to see through people's clothes.

The issue as far as I see it is this: The scanners were sold to the public on the promise that a) there would be no way of aligning the scanned images with any individual and b) None of the images would be saved.

It now transpires that both of these statements are untrue. There are stories of TSA agents radioing in to the person doing the scan that "There's a hottie' coming through", and saved copies of scans have been obtained through freedom of information act requests and released on the internet. Naturally this is causing a lot of people a lot of consternation. Allied with this is the fact that whilst it is allowable to refuse to go through a scanner when asked, any person refusing to do so is then being subject to a fairly intimate physical 'frisk' which some say is akin to sexual assault.

But being the process person that I am I can't help thinking that maybe the issue is what I call 'if all you have is a hammer then every problem is a nail' syndrome.

Let me explain.

Security checks at airports have been around for many, many years. El-Al, the Israeli airline instituted  them back in the 1970's to counter Palestinian hijack attempts and since then there have been no terrorist alerts on Israeli planes. Since September 11th US airlines have reacted to potential security threats by implementing a series of tougher and tougher checks on passengers prior to boarding. The aim of these has been two-fold a) They attempt to offer some protection against future terrorist attacks b) They offer re-assurance to the public that the authorities are attempting to combat terrorism in our skies.

However, a number of high profile 'misses' by the security checks have resulted in tighter and tighter standards being implemented at airports. We are now at the stage where - in many cases - the security checks prior to boarding the plane are taking longer than the flights themselves.

As a means of improving this the TSA implemented the full body scanners. These were meant to be attempts to speed up the security process by removing the need to individually check shoes, belts, underpants (!) etc. In theory the concept is sound. but in practice it has raised a whole new set of issues.

I am of the opinion that the TSA are viewing these scanners as 'the tool that will help the process go quicker'. This is akin to saying "I have Microsoft's Excel package on my PC therefore that's what I am going to use to run my accounting system". It isn't necessarily, the right tool for the job although it will do the job. If all you have is a hammer then every problem is a nail

The TSA have fallen into the trap of thinking that the tool they have is the right one for the job when in fact it is just a tool. There need to be processes around the tool to ensure it is appropriately implemented and managed.

Let me be perfectly clear about this before I go any further: I think that security checks at airports are a vital and necessary part of flying. The events of 9/11 (and multiple hijacks prior to that) have illustrated that this is the case. Where I differ with official opinion is in how these checks are performed.

Earlier on in this article I mentioned that El-Al have had stringent security checks in place for over 30 years. They do not involve full body scans, nor do they involve intimate physical body searches. But they have been successful in eliminating any type of terrorist attack on Israeli planes since they were instituted. Yes, the security checks take some time. Yes they do, often, involve racial profiling. But they also use old-fashioned method such as existing metal detectors, face-to-face questioning and baggage scans prior to loading.

If one of the most security concious (and successful) airlines in the world doesn't use body scanners, why should any other?

Let's look at this from a process point of view (which is what El Al have done). Airlines want to identify and eliminate any potential threat as early as possible. This is done through intelligence prior to booking, research once passenger names are known, vigilance and questioning at the airport and surveillance on-board. The whole task of frisking passengers for dangerous articles is only a minor part of this. So why is it taking on such significance?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't most US airlines follow this process at the moment anyway? At the end of the day the objective is to stop someone either hijacking a plane or setting a bomb off on board. Identifying potential hijackers prior to boarding is preferable to identifying them on board. Cockpit doors are now reinforced and locked. Sky Marshalls now board all (?) planes in the US. Since 9/11 there has not been a single terrorist attack on a plane. Of course there have been several attempts (The shoe bomber and the underpants bomber, for example) But these have all been  stopped by passengers and none of them have been caught by the airport security checks.

Whichever way you look at it the process is broken.

Thoughts and comments below please.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

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The Curious Case of the iPhone process

In an earlier post I talked about my day in London and the process issues I had with agencies.

A little later on in the day I went to buy an iPhone at the Apple store in White City, West London. I wondered into the store. It was quite empty. I played with the iPhones for a while and then went to the counter. There was a sign saying 'Queue for your iPhones here'. I queued. I waited about 6 minutes for a free station. Then I asked for an iPhone. I was asked if I had a reservation? I said 'No'. I was told I couldn't get an iPhone without a reservation. But I was also told I could make a reservation using one of their machines. I did and was able to make a reservation for about 45 minutes time.

But it got me thinking of the process behind this.

Apple have obviously decided they want to manage the flow of iPhones.So in order to do this they have restricted sales of iPhones to people who have a reservation. Is this to manage demand? Maybe. But having made the reservation there was obviously sufficient stock to allow me to pick one up within the hour therefore it wasn't a demand issue. In fact if they had enough stock in - which they obviously did - they could allocate a proportion out to those who had reservations and still keep a 'slush' stock on hand for walk ins like me.

My thought on the whole reservation issue was this "If I'm on-line making a reservation for an iPhone, why wouldn't I just go to the on-line Apple store and order one for home delivery?".

To me the whole 'reserving an iPhone' process seems flawed. Your thoughts?

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

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Is process scaleable?

Wednesday this week was a day of process frustrations for me.

Let me explain.

I went into London with one aim: To re-register with two agencies who assist in getting acting jobs for me. (For those who don't know, I am an actor as well as a Business Process consultant). The concept is very straightforward - in each agency you fill in a form, sign a document, and have your measurements and pictures taken.

The first agency I went to was ill-prepared for the day. Even though they had booked appointments from 9am, they were not even ready to start until 9.30. Then they had people unsure about which order they had to be processed in. The process itself was unclear in terms of who did which part in which sequence. Photos were being taken randomly before people had been fully processed and it was generally a shambles. I was in there for well over 1 hour.

Contrast that with the later appointment at a different agency. On arrival a row of chairs was ready, each one equipped with a clipboard, pen and appropriate forms. Names were noted for the record and people were processed in arrival sequence. Each person was taken to a measuring station, then to a computer screen, then to a photo studio. I was in there for about 15 minutes.

Fundamentally the process each of these agencies was using was identical, but the implementation of the process was seriously flawed. Actually, on reflection I think the first agency was not using a process. They were just running things on and ad-hoc basis.

It got me thinking about scalability of processes. Agency 1 was a smaller than Agency 2 by quite a margin. The number of people they were processing was considerably less. So, in fact, their process should have been slicker and easier to manage than Agency 2's. But is this in fact the case? Could I have taken the process flow from agency 2 and dropped it into agency 1 without an issue?

Was the process scaleable?

Is process scaleable in general? Can a process which deals with 30 people/widgets/forms per hour be upscaled to deal with 3000 people/widgets/forms per hour without obvious detriment? (Obviously this assumes that it is physically possible to process the appropriate number of items in the given time).

Your thoughts?

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford
See related info below