by Pradeep Henry

The process-or-outcomes debate returns: 3 things to do today

Aug 30, 2018
IT LeadershipIT StrategyTechnology Industry

Revisiting the debate in the context of todayu2019s strategic initiatives.

5 checklist
Credit: Thinkstock

Some argued from a process perspective, while others argued from an outcomes perspective. The conclusion, often, was the same: outcomes are about where you want to go and processes are about how to get there. This conclusion has not changed today. However, new opportunities and wider scope means, you need to do three things.

1. Let corporate strategy drive

You just can’t afford to wander in the digital jungle. You need to get your corporate strategies to drive your initiatives.

C-suite folks are, and rightly so, outcomes-driven. Organizations considered successful pursued outcomes. No successful company was ever founded (or will ever be founded) to do “excellent” processes without a purposeful pursuit of specific outcomes. Companies are, by nature and by definition, driven by the need to achieve certain outcomes. Even nonprofits have targeted outcomes. A charity organization, for example, may have targets both in terms of how many people to reach out to and how much resources (money etc) they would need to do that. This is why vendors are being advised to offer “outcomes” instead of “solutions.” (MIT Sloan Management Review, Selling Solutions Isn’t Enough).

So the question about outcomes is how to define them. Organizations have overall corporate goals. To achieve those goals, organizations devise strategies. To guide and measure the execution of strategies, organizations define outcomes, which are in terms of customer value and financial performance. These outcomes are strategic in the sense they are derived from corporate strategy and not from business unit strategy, digital strategy, or other such possibly siloed strategies. When you define outcomes, make sure they are fairly high-level and medium-term. You don’t want outcomes that are so detailed they can only be measured via science projects. You also don’t want long-term outcomes, the pursuit of which people are likely to postpone.

2. View tech and UI as processes

Once you’ve defined targeted strategic outcomes, you are ready to purposefully transform your business. Processes are the units that you innovate individually and integrally as you transform your business. Whether you call your initiative a digital initiative or a business transformation initiative, the right thing to do is to blend business innovation and technology elements.

While process view naturally exists when you do business innovation, it is often absent when you start working on individual technology elements. Yes, technology elements are processes, too.

Authors and process experts Howard Smith and Peter Fingar said, “most of a company’s business processes are trapped inside software.” Processes are present in internal technology elements such as an inventory control system and in external tech elements such as a vendor bidding system.

Processes are also encapsulated in consumer tech. Sure, business tech is different from consumer tech in many ways. For example, performance objectives, usage scenarios, and buying criteria for an organization are different from those for consumers. However, both business tech and consumer tech encapsulate processes. A cab-hailing app, for example, encapsulates these processes: rides, offers and payments.

In fact, the user interface of a tech element should also be viewed as process rather than merely as an interaction medium. A lot of process tasks are executed through the UI. UI is just as workable as the technology element – from user standpoint.

Here’s why it’s important to view technology elements and their UI as processes. “It is the process view that shows how value is delivered to the customer by the enterprise,” says Ronald E. Giachetti. Besides, process view makes it easy to integrate all the collaborative/synergistic business elements. Such integration also ensures that the existing business will not be degraded when a business transformation with its tech elements is deployed for use.

Innovate at 3 levels

It is through purposeful design of processes that you make a way to eventually “get there” (that is, generate targeted outcomes). Making a way is about innovating processes at three levels, individually and holistically.

  1. “Reservoir” is a term I use to label the part of the organization you choose to work on because it has shown strategic potential. It is a set of processes. In a strategic initiative, you will integrally transform this set of processes. While transforming, you will identify one or more technology elements.
  2. Technology element. Innovation opportunities are also available in the processes encapsulated in each tech element. Exploit these opportunities. Ask the same questions you would have asked while transforming the process set: Can we eliminate some work? Can we eliminate hand-offs, approvals, and anything else that doesn’t add value? Can we straighten and shorten the path of flow? Cut all unessential tasks and features that are not part of the process or user experience.
  3. User interface. Contrary to traditional belief, a technology element’s UI isn’t simply a usability factor, but a process factor first. So, design the UI like you would a process.

Get your initiative to make a strategic contribution. Start with corporate strategy, but keep a process focus so you can can eventually generate targeted strategic outcomes.