Become your product (or service). Most of us spend so much time working inside our companies we forget that we need to work on our companies as well. Changing the ways processes happen, improving the order of operations, making improvements to the product itself, or any undertaking with the intent of improvement is a necessary component of getting better over time. One way to figure out what can be improved is thinking through the lens of the product. In other words, become the product. Let’s look at what that means.
Start with your own business. Whether you make a physical product that customers use or offer a service, the exercise remains the same. Your goal is to imagine every step in the process from the lens of the product itself from raw material all the way to being disposed of. For the service industry, imagine the service from the lens of a customer from first interaction, all the way to the end of the relationship. I’ll give two examples, one for a product, one for a service.
We’ll imagine a guitar. Assuming your business takes in wood and metal chords as an input and sells finished guitars as the output, there are many steps in between. The raw wood coming into a facility will need to be received. If you’re the wood, what do you see? It might be the door of a truck opening to reveal another door that leads into a warehouse. You might see a forklift coming to remove you from the truck and place you on a shelf or on the floor. Then what happens? After you’ve been received, you’ll either need to be moved or used. How long does it take? What direction do you move in?
You’ll eventually find yourself by loud machines. Saws, drills, mills, lathes, etc. How are you entering each machine? What is happening after each? Is there waiting? Or is it a quick path from entering the warehouse to leaving it? When do the chords get attached? Where do you get stained or painted? What about sanding? Observing your surroundings (as a guitar) will shed light on what areas you can improve (as a human). Some things you want to remove from the process are long periods of waiting, unnecessary lifting and motion, doubling back on a path you have already gone down, and sitting in queue at a machine.
The more time you spend looking at all the steps from the lens of the product, the more clearly you will notice areas that can be improved. Anything you would not want in your own life is likely a waste in the process of the product. Take traffic as an example. No one enjoys sitting in their car on a highway waiting for the people in front of you to get moving so you can get to where ever you’re headed. A product should not have to sit in queue (traffic) on its way to a process either. You probably don’t like having to drive to one side of town for one errand, then driving all the way back to the other side for another errand. You probably plan your errands and routes accordingly, so you can minimize travel time. Similarly, a product should be able to flow in a single direction from the moment it enters the facility to the moment it leaves.
Becoming the product means looking at the entire set of steps it takes to go from lumber to finished guitar. It means adopting a perspective that questions every little thing.
The service industry is ripe for improvement projects due to the high variability in clients that participate in the service. The fictional guitar plant above has control over what types of raw wood enter the system, so it has less variability than a service business that has no control on the inputs. A law firm, for example, might get any number of people in need of their service for any number of reasons. This is why there are so many law firms that specialize in one particular thing (injury, M&A, defense, etc.). It’s to limit their variability. High variability necessarily means more risk of poor outcome. So what does it mean to look at your service from the lens of the service?
It starts by looking on from the lens of the customer. Why is a customer coming to you? What is it they are expecting to receive? What would the bare minimum of acceptable service look like? What would above and beyond look like?
Asking these preliminary questions can help solidify what the value is for the customer. They must have some kind of need if they are coming to your business. Whatever it is the customer values most is the area of the service to focus on.
At the fictional law firm, the thing the customer might value most is not being held liable for an accusation. The business name, logo, or office location matter much less than what the customer wants; great representation. By understanding the customers needs, one can identify what is value adding about the service. From there, seeing the service from a new lens becomes easier. Knowing that great representation is what a customer wants provides the starting place. What does the current representation look like? Is it one lawyer, or multiple? Is it one meeting before a court day or multiple? What would worse representation look like? What would better representation look like?
Asking questions around the service being provided is a mental exercise meant to point out new areas to work on improving. Not every question will yield a worthy insight, but eventually one will.
Continuing on with the example, if great representation means multiple lawyers and multiple meetings before a court date, than it’s paramount the service includes those things. Improving the service might mean making time for an additional meeting or hiring an additional lawyer who can co-represent all clients.
Becoming your service is about digging much deeper than the surface to find out what is the value adding part of your service. Once it’s clear what is seen as valuable, it’s examining all the relevant information surrounding the value added step(s). Finally, it’s identifying the gaps between what is being valued and what is being delivered. The wider the gap, the more work there is to do.
What’s your favorite question to ask from the lens of your product? Let me know Twitter: @Quinn_Hanson22
|Local Business of the Week|
This week, for the first time in 2020, I went to a “networking” event. It was really just 25 people standing in a parking lot (masks on) learning about a local business that has been handling the pandemic like a champion. That company, was Blackstrap.
Blackstrap is a Bend, Oregon company, founded in 2008. They started making high quality masks and UV protective gear for outdoor industries like skiing, snowboarding, hunting and fishing. Their product lines include UV protective sleeves, neck protectors, full hoods, and winter specific face masks that keep your beautiful face warm. When Covid-19 shut down most businesses, Blackstrap was able to pivot into producing the ubiquitous face masks we see everyone in. On top of their quick pivot, they simultaneously launched the Civil Masks program that donates masks to hospitals, clinics, government agencies, and other businesses in need of PPE.
If you or someone you know is in a business that needs masks, apply here for free ones. To date, Blackstrap has donated more than $1 Million dollars in free masks. They’re a fantastic business worth checking out.(not sponsored!)
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This week’s edition marks the first official trivia game of the Tuesday Toolkit. Get ready to get learnin’
To kick things off, we’re jumping into geography. Can you name the country these capital cities belong to?
(Answers below, but no cheating)
Tweet of the Week
This specific tweet came from a bot account, but it stems from a highly influential thinker and philosopher, Naval Ravikant. “Changing you interpretation of the past is often just as good as changing the past”
News of the Week
Square, the payments company run by Jack Dorsey, made headlines this week in the tech and crypto currency spheres when it announced it was placing 1% of its assets in Bitcoin. (If that sentence didn’t make any sense, here is a place to start your crypto currency education).
Anyways, placing 1% of your assets into Bitcoin is a big move for a large company. That measly sounding 1% translates to $50 Million dollars, or 4,709 Bitcoins. What a time to be alive. Square is the second major company in the last two months to announce a shift in assets away from cash, and into Bitcoin.
Article of the Week
From The Observer Effect comes an interview with Daniel Ek, co-founder of Spotify. This article is a transcript of an interview done by Sriram Krishnan
Some of my favorite parts:
On Being Intentional with Time
Candidly, that’s my role as leader: to coach others on how best to make use of their limited time. Not only is time the most precious resource the company has, it’s also the most precious resource they have! It’s crucial that they approach the use of their time with a holistic perspective. By way of example, I had a recent call with one of my directors who had not taken a vacation in six months. Our conversation delved into why this person thought that they could not be away for two weeks, and me arguing for why the person had to take two weeks to recharge!There is never enough time – for work, for family and friends – and it takes work to make the best use of it. It’s all about fostering a holistic perspective in life.
On Working in Flow
The basic gist is we all have our moments when we’re the most inspired, right? Whether that’s when we’re driving our car, whether it’s showering, or whether we’re listening to something and we get an idea.For me, as I said, that often happens on my walks. I find those moments to be the most valuable ones. I will say, nine times out of ten nothing comes of them, because the idea turns out not to be that great. But that one time where it is great, it truly changes business.
I call people when I’m inspired by something and throw out lots of different ideas. Again, nine times out of ten what I say is completely worth shit. But every now and then, I come up with something that’s super relevant for someone; something that changes how they look at an issue. This can lead to super interesting breakthroughs.Most of our large strategic breakthroughs have been exactly that: either because I came up with something or someone came up with something and bounced that idea off me in that moment.
On Creative Process
When Beyoncé records an album, one of the things that she does, which is just remarkable, is she keeps almost four or five different studios running at the same time in a city.
She uses different musicians, different producers and she actually goes from room to room: brainstorming ideas, trying different things, working on different songs. Whenever the moment leaves, she will go to the next studio and do the same thing. I’m not sure if it’s a predetermined schedule or if it’s more spontaneous, like when she’s in a vibe, but the process is essentially not a singular thing. It’s something that she does in multiple parts.That creative process has been super interesting for me to try to understand. Obviously, I love the media industry for that reason: how it’s both a business on the one side and it’s nurturing incredibly creative and talented individuals on the other.
Thanks for tuning in this week! If you found value in this, please share it with your friends, colleagues, associates, acquaintances, family members, bowling leagues, partners, tinder dates and strangers.
3. South Africa
How many did you know?