June 15, 2012
The other day, as I arrived a bit later than usual for work at one of my clients, I was immediately called into a meeting without any prior notice. When the meeting began I was told that the purpose of it was to discuss strategies on how to support the entire organization in projects working with external service providers. The people in the meeting were all representatives from different support functions within the organization. Everyone was discussing how to divide the responsibilities of supporting the rest of the organization from different perspectives. I was nodding in agreement whenever someone said something that sounded good to me, and every now and then I asked for a clarification when there was something I didn’t understand.
Now, this was outside of my expertise and I don’t really know anything about buying external services so I started going through possible relevant knowledge in my head while at the same time listening to everyone else. The only thing that came to my mind was what I had read in “Freedom from Command & Control” by John Seddon. A main theme of the book was how a service organization should be designed from the outside and in; to always begin with the customer perspective. The book is written from the perspective of the service organization but I figured that this ought to be good to consider as a buyer of services as well. A good criterion in the supplier selection process should be that they work according to the principles listed by Seddon. So while we were doing some friendly territorial peeing between the departments on who should provide what service to the rest of the organization, I was trying to figure out how to explain Seddon’s thoughts to the others and the rest of the organization.
That’s when my invisible friend kicked me in the groin and yelled “Stuuuuuuuupid!!!” in my ear. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” My eyes were swelling up from the pain of this sucker punch as my inner voice continued; “Your mind is filled with how to teach others how to design a service organization from the outside in while you all are designing your own service organization from the inside out. You are sitting here making up your own ideas on what support to provide the rest of the organization without any representation from your customers.”
After the initial chock had worn off, I wiped a tear out of my eye and swallowed a couple of times. I then raised my hand to get the attention of the room. When I had everyone’s attention, I spoke up; “What if we turn the question around? What if we ask the organization what support they need and then organize ourselves in the best way to provide this service?”
There was a long silence and I wasn’t sure if they all thought I was out of my mind or not, but then everyone started nodding. “Yes, that might be a good idea. Perhaps we should look at the need before we try to provide a solution.”
I don’t know if anyone noticed my pain and I never mentioned the sucker punch but my conscience about not pretending that I had walked down that horrible dark alley of ignoring my customers has been bothering me since so I figured that sharing this story might ease my mind a bit. We’ll see if it helps.