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Product Enhancement with Front-line Professionals
By Walter Carvalho, VP & Corporate CIO, Carnival Corporation
You certainly have heard that “the people that know it better are those in the front line”. It is the teller at the bank branch; the floor sales rep at the store; the customer service agent at the call center. They deal with the real customers every day, all day. They know what works in the product, its issues, the common complaints, and how it can be improved. Yet, more commonly than not, their voices are hardly heard. There are no communication channels to “speak to the guys in the upper floor”. Perhaps the company has an old fashioned “suggestion box”, or a more “innovative” e-mail address to send comments. We all know those methods can see better days. The question remains: How can we effectively harness the “voice of the front line”?
The challenge can be even greater if there is a significant distance or many layers of management between headquarters and where the product or service is delivered. Take the cruise industry, for instance. The majority of the guest experience occurs in a ship in the distant ocean. How can the voice of the crew be effectively heard in the shore offices and by other fellow crew members? For example, if the company would like to continually improve its safety standards and processes, how can you get a line of communication between front line (the “real world”) and management (which defines the policies and procedures)? That is where workflow management can play a big piece in the game.
Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise operator, implemented a solution that would allow the capturing of suggestions, their evaluations by the proper channels, the implementation of changes to policies and procedures, and the communication of those changes, into one integrated platform that extensively used workflow management.
IT is about harnessing the power of the voice of the front line
The beauty of such system is that it contains policies and procedures specific to one area, it tells the user whenever there is a change to a procedure that applies to the role of the user, while also allowing the user to make suggestions for change, including the ability to send attachments (e.g. pictures, video), so appropriate stakeholders can evaluate them, and, whenever applicable, make updates to existing policies and procedures. This provides an integrated solution to manage the whole business process improvement lifecycle.
Critical for the success of such implementation are the following:
• Easy Access: Ideally, the user can start the process when and where the ideas may come to light. Make access to the system very easy and use as many different channels as it may make sense. If it is through a system that only the manager has access to and staff can only give suggestions during the staff meetings, you will lose some of the best opportunities. Use web applications, mobile apps, etc. Make it easy so people can start a suggestion process when the idea comes to them.
• Simple and Fluid Workflow: It is easy to get too excited with a workflow tool and make the process more complicated than it needs to be. However, the simpler and more intuitive the process, the more chances it has to be accepted by users. Embed in the flow status indicators of next steps and what is the current status.
• Simple Dashboards: It is important to have transparency throughout the process. People should be able to quickly see the status of suggestions submitted, all the way to the point where they can see if it did get accepted (or not) to promote changes to existing processes. That is the mechanism that keeps the continuous process improvement moving.
• Culture of Change: Management has to be open and ready to evaluate all suggestions and to make changes whenever applicable. Tardiness in responding gives the impression that no attention is being paid. So be ready to embrace the process and be an ambassador for changes to come.
• It’s not about the tool: There are literally hundreds of solutions in the market today that can help you leverage technology to efficiently manage workflows. As a matter of fact, your company may have a product today that has the capability of electronically managing workflows, albeit it may not be explored. It can be one of those “added features” of an existing core product. Regardless, it is not about the product, but about how you use and implement it.
The potential benefits of using automated workflow management tools cannot be underestimated. They prevent processes “slipping through the cracks,” allow that “one-in-one-hundred” idea to come to life which can save money or create competitive advantage through innovation, while encouraging all employees to continuously look for opportunities for the betterment of the company’s product and services. It is about harnessing the power of the voice of the front line.