If you want innovation don’t ask your customers - analyse your business processes instead
“If we’d asked our customers what they needed, they would have asked for a faster horse” is said to be a quote of Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company. What Henry Ford was referring to was the lack of good responses when asking customers for input that were true out-of-the-box innovation. Why is that? Mainly because the customers’ context is their current product, solving their current needs, and their input will most likely be adjustments or optimisation of their current product.
Even Apples Steve Jobs does not recommend asking the customers for input when trying be innovative. Where does that leave us? With our business processes! Simply because we have nowhere else to go. In order to be innovative you must A) Understand what your business need is B) Understand what business processes are involved C) Think out-of-the-box to design new innovative business processes to solve your business need.
Innovation should not be confused with process optimisation. In process optimisation you look at the existing business processes and try to find ways to improve the process by making the process either faster or cheaper. Mostly this is done by eliminating none-value-adding-processes, automating processes, or executing processes in parallel (thus eliminating waiting time and bottle necks). However, optimising the business processes does not bring you any innovation, it (just) brings you efficiency and lower costs.
Let’s take an example.
Suppose a National Post authority due to increased competition is looking for innovation to strengthen it’s competitiveness. First thing to do is to be aware of the business needs. The business needs to look for is the business needs in the eye of the customers. Because, by improving the fulfilment of the business needs seen from the customer’s perspective you are increasing their business value. So,
- Changing business processes to shorten queues at the post office brings efficiency not innovation
- Changing business processes to eliminate the need for stamps brings innovation
- Changing business processes to eliminate distribution and introducing instantly delivery brings innovation
In order to succeed with your TO-BE business process design it is extremely important to know up-front what is the goal regarding the business process analysis. Is it business process efficiency? Is it lowering costs? Is it better customer service? Is it innovation? Is it just to document the business process?
Only by knowing the overall goal is it possible to design a good suggestion for the TO-BE business process.
Aiming for business process efficiency will probably involve:
- Automation of business processes
- None-value-adding-process elimination
- Faster processing time
Aiming for better customer service will probably involve:
- Individualised processes
- Human involvement in processes
- Slower processing time
Aiming for innovation will probably involve:
- Out-of-the-box process redesign
- New technology / new systems
Bringing innovation is hard work. It requires established process design to be challenged by out-of-the-box thinking. Innovation is not a brilliant idea in the shower – it is business redesign continuously.