Forget the epic trek of end-to-end process improvement. In the digital world, process improvement needs to be a series of short excursions.

The end of the road for end-to-end process improvement?

For millennia we’ve told ourselves stories about epic treks – from the legendary travels of Odysseus to the apparently endless voyage of the USS Enterprise. But while it’s all very well for fictional heroes, it’s no way for modern organizations to go about process improvement. For process professionals, if you’re going to boldly go, you need to do it with a degree of certainty about what it’s going to look like when Scotty beams you down to the surface. And you can’t take forever and a day to do it.

Too many organizations, however, seem intent on throwing resources at end-to-end process improvement when the smart money is on targeted improvements at key touchpoints along the journey.

In the digital age, when the customer experience is such a vital differentiator, process improvement is a series of short excursions, not an epic trek. Here’s why:

1: Digital business transformation needs to be customer-centric.

But you can’t give customers what they want, when they want it, if it takes you months or years to improve things. Customers won’t hang around waiting for you to catch up with their expectations.

2: The old, end-to-end way of doing things is thinking inside-out.

But it’s now essential to think outside-in, starting from the customer’s view and working back to the process. The inside-out approach means the chances are any process improvements won’t have the right impact on the customer experience.

The old way is Frodo dragging the ring all the way to Mordor for months on end and putting the whole of Middle Earth at risk on a daily basis (surely the dictionary definition of the epic end-to-end trek).

The new way is just giving the ring to the giant eagles in the first place and having them make a short, virtually risk-free excursion to a key touchpoint (in this case, Mount Doom). It’s an effective solution, but admittedly even Peter Jackson would probably have struggled to get three films out of it…

The rules have changed

To make fast, effective improvements, it’s far better to digitize and automate processes at specific customer touchpoints, targeted to deliver key improvements to the customer experience (for maximum business value). Onboarding and complaint handling, for example, are critical ‘moments of truth’ in the journey that can make or break your relationships with customers.

The trouble is many of these customer-facing processes don’t fit into neat packages that can be easily managed with off-the-shelf ERP or BPM software designed for the epic treks of the past. These types of processes need to respond quickly to external developments. For example, if you’re a retailer, how do you respond to a competitor opening a pop-up shop offering one-hour collection services right outside your doors? If you’re relying on the old end-to-end process improvement tools and methodologies, it’s just not possible to react in time.

You need to find a new way to conduct fast experiments, create quick prototypes and make iterative improvements. These are the short process improvement excursion that will deliver the fast results you need, but it’s not easy to accomplish when IT queues continue to lengthen thanks to the digital skills shortage.

The new tools of the trade

Beating the IT queue to innovate fast calls for new methodologies and tools that let process stakeholders (whether they’re process professionals, business users or customers) take control of making improvements at specific points along the end-to-end journey.

Design Thinking, for example, puts stakeholders – including customers – right at the heart of designing the process. It’s certainly worth considering for key customer-facing processes, where a true ‘customer first’ approach will pay big dividends.

Testing and learning using Lean Startup methods and a minimum viable product (MVP) approach can enable the kinds of rapid innovations needed. Travel agency Thomas Cook is a great example. The team there saw great success by moving away from trying to improve the entire end-to-end customer journey and instead focused on making fast improvements in key areas, such as in-resort feedback handling.

Creating an MVP of a new digital solution in just a few weeks isn’t easy (or cheap) using traditional IT development resources – which is where Low-code comes in. With Low-code development platforms such as MATS, virtually anyone (probably even a hobbit) can configure a new process app without any need for hand-coding. That means no more waiting in the IT queue to get things fixed. And it makes it easy and affordable to conduct fast, low-risk experiments and make iterative enhancements as you go.

Of course, it’s important to bear in mind that different methods and tools will be better suited to different types of processes. While Design Thinking might be ideal for improving the user experience, behind-the-scenes order fulfilment processes might benefit from robotics and automation technologies that require a more traditional IT development model.

But before we all get carried away…

Fixing specific touchpoints along the end-to-end process journey sounds great in theory, but in practice all kinds of pitfalls await the unwary.

Even when you’re focused on a specific point, it pays to keep the end-to-end picture in mind. Otherwise you risk having your fix cause problems further downstream, and all your good intentions could simply be paving the road to process hell.

Let’s take another retail example. Enhancing in-store processes so that customers get served faster is a great idea, sure to win you a loyal following. But if those same customers are abandoned at the storefront to somehow get, say, a refrigerator to their vehicle parked half a mile away, the goodwill you’ve built up in the store is soon replaced with frustration (not to mention chronic back pain…). Focusing on a key touchpoint is fine, but you need to approach it from the point of view of the customer, who has a literal end-to-end journey of their own to consider.

Equally, customer-first thinking also needs to be balanced with other considerations, as the takeaway food delivery service Deliveroo has recently learned. The company certainly thought customer-first, making it easier for customers to sign up using through social media accounts rather than creating a separate Deliveroo sign-on.

Just one problem, though: if one site using those sign-in details gets hacked, the stolen credentials can be used on all the other sites. And because Deliveroo had made the customer journey even easier by remembering payment card details and not asking for customers’ CCV2 codes on each transaction, scammers have been able to pay for deliveries using other people’s money. Refunding genuine customers won’t cost a huge amount, but it’s tougher to restore customer trust.

Give the ring to the eagles

Organizations that get this right – thinking customer-first while putting effective checks and balances in place – can move away from slow, expensive and risky end-to-end treks and start making fast, cheap and low-risk excursions to the touchpoints that really make a difference.

And if you’d like to see how MATS Low-code can help you do just that, request a demo and we’ll give you the guided tour.

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