What business are you in?

Posted on October 19, 2013 by David Anderson

I expected and got some question like "what did you mean by service orientation?" after yesterday's post.

When I meet managers at client sites or people taking my training workshops, I ask them to answer the question, "What business are you in?" then I supplement it with "what are you serving?" I find "what are you serving?" is a more important question than "who are you serving?"

Most managers in the IT sector don't know what business they are in. They believe they are dating agents. Their job is somehow to match incoming tasks with suitabley skilled workers. They look at the task, judge its attractiveness and then assign it to a worker who is "just its type" - the perfect match. Most managers are managing for utilization and managing to keep workers busy with suitably attractive tasks. They don't know what business they are in!

When I talked in the Kanban Lens about service-orientation, I meant that I want managers to think about the service they provide and to start managing it. If I walk into a Starbucks, the shift supervisor knows what business they are in - they serve cups of coffee. If I walk into a McDonald's the duty manager knows what business they are in - they serve burgers. If I call from home for a pizza for delivery - the restaurant manager knows what business they are in - they make and deliver pizzas.

So what business are you in?

Here are the 4 questions I ask managers to answer for me...

  1. Who are your customers?
  2. What do they ask you for?
  3. What do you do to the requests?
  4. And where do they go when you are finished with them?

The questions solicit work item types and work flow as well as destination. Together they represent the framework for a service interface.

I augment the first set of questions with supplementary questions to solicit expectations and classes of service. What do your customers expect with respect to speed, quality, predictability, conformance to regulations or safety standards? The answers to this question provide us with the necessary classes of service. With all of this information we can understand the service level expectations (SLEs) and from that, when required, look to design the kanban systems to deliver specific service level agreements (SLAs) for each work item type.

If you are interested in how Kanban helps with improved service delivery in creative knowledge work organizations, and how it helps to switch managers to understanding the true business there are in, then I will be talking about this at the Modern Management Methods conference in London on 31st October. Register now!