Is Process Everybody's Product?

Scott Francis
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Phil Gilbert writes provocatively, as usual, in When Process is Your Product.  Fresh from a trip to India to meet with some of the world’s top outsourcers/offshorers, Phil asserts that these are the new strategic partners to the Fortune 500 and:
To put it bluntly, a great outsourcer may be better at quickly improving your business than you are. Why is this? Because, these companies are quickly achieving the cultural maturity required for BPM that eludes even the most progressive companies in the world.  […] If change is so hard, then why is it moving faster at outsourcers than at beleaguered companies? I think it is because process is their product.
I’m not going to debate his assertions, but that last sentence got my attention: … because process is their product. Well, at some level, isn’t process everyone’s product?  Maybe not process generically – but the specific processes that make your business work?…  This concept gained a lot of traction when Dell was taking the PC market by storm with a better process than the competition, rather than a differentiated product (notebook, desktop).  But in some sense, the process of acquiring the hardware is part of the what Dell was selling – the lower cost structure, taking ownership of inventory at the last possible second, the customization, the quick turnaround. So, aren’t the processes that your customers interact with part of what you sell?  And isn’t what you sell your product?  So, if it isn’t quite accurate to say that process is your product, is it fair to say that it is inextricably entangled with your product and with your customers’ perceptions of your product?  And with your company or brand? And then haven’t we come full circle? I think the answer is essentially yes.  Therefore, whenever you consider outsourcing your product, you have to be careful. You don’t want to forgo outside expertise at the expense of speed or quality.  But you want to make sure that you absorb expertise and culture internally that will nurture and sustain your Product (your Process!). Does this mean you don’t leverage outsourcing?  If I rephrase this to take away the locality aspect- does this mean you don’t leverage vendors?  of course not.  But I think it will be increasingly natural to demand a better process (product) from your vendors – you are, after all, their customer.  Phil writes:
But what if you could simply augment your business people in order to graft the culture of change? Is this a new value prop for the Indian companies?
I’m not sold that the IT outsourcing firms will lend you a BPM culture.  Too much time and distance and competing interests between staff for that.  But again, it doesn’t mean that you can’t demand good process of any vendor you work with, and long term contracts that imply more efficient delivery over time. So if your “product” includes the processes that affect your customers, are you investing adequately in the process?  Are you investing as much in the processes that delight your customers as you are in the nuts and bolts of your product?  Are you investing in the processes that create repeat business?  In the processes that help customers extract more value from your product over its lifespan, or extend its useful lifespan? If you’re not, it may be time to re-evaluate that.