Who’s Watch-ing Now?


I went golfing the other day and got paired up with another single. During the course of our round, the gentleman with whom I was paired asked me what I did for a living. I told him that I was a Business Process Improvement Consultant. He informed me that he was retired, but had worked for Motorola for 29 years previously and, therefore, he was very familiar with Six Sigma since Motorola was literally the first U.S. company to embark on a full-scale deployment of the methodology. He humorously related a witticism that his father used to say often:  a consultant is a guy who will take your watch and then tell you what time it is. Though I found the statement very amusing and uncanny in its analogy to the truth, I chuckled back, “Most business leaders are too busy keeping their businesses running (winding their watches) to concern themselves with telling time—that’s where we come in.”

As business process improvement (BPI) practitioners, we are often so concerned with the value propositions of others that we may have a tendency to overlook the strength of our own. In some cases, we may have even neglected to identify the critical-to-quality characteristics (CTQs) that our customers associate with the services we offer. In those cases, are we not guilty of the same transgression that the golf course banter alluded to? Just maybe, we need someone to tell US what time it is? As we have explained to the client companies we work with time and time again, this is one of the critical first steps to affect any type of improvement or to even define an appropriate improvement focus.

So, the question is, “Why do the businesses that invest in business process improvement services do so?” While many may immediately respond with the answer, “return on investment” or “ROI”, that response still leaves much of the question unanswered. I agree that ROI is the product that we are selling, but ROI is a noun, isn’t it? And aren’t CTQ’s adjectives or adverbs that describe the product (which is either a noun or a verb) based on customer requirements? What exactly about the ROI from a customer’s perspective will either entice them or dissuade them from using our services? What CTQs do clients of BPI services associate to a larger degree with the offerings of the consultants they hire over the offerings of the consultants they do not hire? From my experience, I have been able to ascertain three of the CTQs that clients of BPI services associate with the product:  magnitude of the proposed improvement, disruption to normal operations, and risk.

Magnitude of the proposed improvement is fairly straightforward. Since clients of BPI services are looking to maximize their return on investment in these services, most definitely prefer projects that will have a larger financial benefit over those that will have a smaller financial benefit. Quite frankly, it doesn’t make much sense for a company to incur the additional costs of sponsoring a BPI project or deployment for only a minimal gain.

Disruption to normal operations is another CTQ that clients associate with BPI services and should be minimized to the extent possible. After all, BPI activities, in most cases, were not forecasted in the original business plan, whereas normal operations were. Clients of BPI services are looking to us to make our service offerings such that we can assist them to change the tire on the car while the car is still moving down the road.

Finally, risk is a slightly more complex BPI client CTQ. This CTQ encompasses all of the aspects regarding the proposed BPI engagement that may contribute to or detract from the client’s perception that the engagement will deliver on or fall short of the intended ROI objectives. Features such as guarantees, progressive payments, track record of previous engagements, consultant qualifications, etc. serve to reduce the risk that a client will associate with a given BPI service offering.

While I have described three CTQs above that, in my opinion, clients associate with BPI service offerings, I am very interested in EVERYONE’S opinion. I am especially interested in the opinions of the current clients of BPI services and those who may be considering using BPI services for the first time. Our business as BPI practitioners is assisting your organizations to make more net income. Please reply to this post and tell us what we need to do in order to get and/or keep you as a satisfied client.


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4 responses to “Who’s Watch-ing Now?”

  1. Ming Ahmad

    BPI approaches should provide actionable decisions before taking on the ‘roi,’ ‘risk,’ ‘time,’ schedule, and impact implications. To keep the effort and process simple without adversely impacting “operations” (will get to that in a moment), the research and analysis of “what time it is” drives and justifies those decisions clearly. That is, simply bounding the environment or problem, defining and verifying with the customer on the current or “as-is” situation. Repeat–now verify the bounded, defined TO-BE solution with the customer. Having established those parameters for shared success, BPI practitioners can develop and present the Gap Analysis options, the planning phases (benefit, cost, schedule, risk, eg) with priority of execution and contingencies in that project planning.

    In terms of Operations, the business or BPI need not imply “going off-line” to address the issues. Operations, like support, like sales, like delivery, or like maintenance are not silo-ed entities. They individually have clever names and titles–but they are all connected in the business of MAINTAINING the business. Maintenance may seem like an arduous, annoying issue–until you have no choice but to catch up and pay the price of compliance, for the business or of and for yourself. But if you define BPI as synonymous with ‘maintenance’ and making that a daily habit (not as an “event” to attend), BPI actually becomes enjoyable and beneficial to all that contribute to it…

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