Voice of the Customer

[As mentioned in an earlier post, SAP has embarked on a transformation journey with a focus on Lean principles.  Due to the contributions of my User Experience team into several of SAP’s COO-sponsored projects (COO Programs & Projects, or COO P/Ps for short), I have been invited to blog inside SAP about our journey to becoming a Lean enterprise.  To the extent that confidentiality allows, I will cross-post those entries here.  This is my first post to the group blog, in which I explain the synergistic relationship between Lean / Voice of the Customer and our User Experience services.]

One of the core premises of Lean is that we should start process improvements by understanding what the customer wants.  Bringing the Voice of the Customer into our analysis ensures that we are focused on the things that they deem the most critical, first.  The COO Standard Methods and Tools (SMT) team has started to bring this way of thinking into the COO Programs & Projects through Voice of the Customer exercises that support change management and communications.  I run a User Experience (UX) team in the COO Board area.  With a user-centered design approach, we too are trying to do our part to ensure that the customer perspective is heard and considered in SAP’s process and system improvement efforts.  This ensures that we have people accounted for in the people – process – technology framework.

Why is the Voice of the Customer a critical element of Lean?  When Lean was first introduced at SAP, we were provided some reading materials from The Lean Institute (http://www.lean.org).  One of the common questions was if there is an ‘essential implementation sequence’ for lean.  The documentation said:

Yes, there is. The five steps of lean implementation are as follows: specify value, map the value stream, make the remaining steps flow, let the customer pull, and then pursue perfection relentlessly.  When it comes down to the actual nitty-gritty of lean implementation, veterans may use these principles as mere guidelines for proceeding, as opposed to a fixed sequence. For example, as illustrated in the novel The Gold Mine, the first step that the sensei takes is a simple walk along the factory floor, paying close attention to the facts of how people work.

I started the UX team in 2005 when I worked in US Sales Operations under J Vaughan. [If you want to know more about how I started the team, you can read a paper I co-authored for EPIC 2008, which is linked to a blog post by that name.] Using skills that I had gained during my training as an anthropologist, I spent nearly 100 hours walking the shop floor – that is, shadowing Account Executives [SAP salespeople] in their daily work – and capturing my findings through in depth notes and recorded interviews.  I analyzed my findings and presented them back to Sales Operations leadership.  My hope was to ensure that the sales productivity improvement efforts being driven by J and her Leadership Team were grounded in an in-depth understanding of the real lives of sales people.  I’ll talk more about some of that research in an upcoming post.

Four years later in 2009, the UX team has supported multiple strategic projects with insights on the working lives of SAP employees.  Although our work has been well received, we continue to struggle with sponsors, stakeholders, project managers, and team members not understanding that  the Voice of the Customer is such a critical part of the project process.  Our experience at SAP has been that a typical implementation has technical resources (consultants and IT) and business stakeholders.  Those business stakeholders believe that they represent the end-users, but in many cases they do not.  In fact, they represent a different set of interests that are not always aligned with those of the true end-user!

This Venn diagram (at right) is from Hasso Plattner’s 2005 keynote, when he first started to talk about User-Centered Design (UCD) in earnest.  It shows that the user’s point of view is a third and integral part of delivering a user-centered design.  What I plan to talk about in future blog posts is some of the work that we’ve done on the COO P/Ps, and some of the challenges we’ve faced in ensuring that the Voice of the Customer – in this case the SAP employee – is considered.  I look forward to sharing my perspectives on our transformation with you in the weeks and months to come!

3 Comments on “Voice of the Customer

  1. Pingback: End-user or business stakeholder? « Natalie Hanson, PhD

  2. Pingback: User Experience & Lean « Natalie Hanson, PhD

  3. Pingback: User Experience & Lean | Natalie Hanson, PhD

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