The 'Curate's Egg' of Service Provider Processes
Updated: Mar 17
Why the Product Management Process should be something that Service Providers really 'go to work on'
Here’s a cheeky little statement dedicated to all those business process cynics out there:
"It should be a given that the application of a good quality, end-to-end, product managemet process is fundamental to commercially successful managed services, for any service provider."
Vendira and I agree that everything about this statement is one hundred percent bang on the money – true and accurate.
We also agree that it is way easier to say, than to do!
But, a ‘good quality, end-to-end, product management business process’ really should be a no brainer in an industry which has such heavy focus on ‘processes’ and ‘practices’, shouldn’t it?
After all, aren’t we all up to our eyeballs in business process tools, methodologies, frameworks, concepts and systems - all designed to guide and help us achieve great things for our Customers and our business?
Furthermore, don’t those Customers look specifically for reassurances that you, as their managed service provider, actually applies or uses them - for example, in related certifications such as ISO and ITIL etc.?
We have all known for a very long time that inadequate processes or, worse, no process at all, creates a poor working envirionment riddled with unnecessary delays, re-work, inconsistencies and even confusion. Above all, it results in entirely avoidable cost to the business.
Yet a complete, cross-functional, cohesive business process for product management is, in our experience, a rare beast indeed, certainly in the managed services business.
No amount of certification seems to have truly made it a ‘thing’.
So, what would it take to make that statement entirely true and applicable to your business?
Let’s take a quick look at the key elements of a ‘good quality end-to-end product management business process’ for those in Managed Services, and at how Vendira can help to ‘make it so’ in your organisation.
“Over 90% of process improvement is done by process mapping.
All that means is identifying the steps in a process and looking to the value that they add.”
-- Dr. Penny Weller, Senior Director, Global Business Services. The Hackett Group
A ‘business process’ is simply something which describes what is done, when in your organisation, in order to achieve a defined business objective or organisational goal.
Dependent on how it is rendered, an iteration of a process might also identify who performs the component activities and tasks – which group, department, team or perhaps, even the individual role.
In any event, in order to have any chance of being successful, a business process should, at least, be:
Defined - clearly articulated
includes all key activities from start to finish; activities are made up of tasks which may be described separately, possibly using further level(s) of mapping
identifies inputs and outputs of each key activity
identifies gates and decision points – any associated rules and limits
aligns and works with other related processes or practices which are critical to its success
Applied - communicated, trained and followed
Maintained - measured and improved
For clarity, a Business Process is NOT:
… a description of how something is done. This is the purpose of guides, procedures or user instructions. However, standardising, streamlining and simplifying working practices, those tasks which underpin your business process, is crucial. See ‘Good Quality’.
… an explanation of why something is done. Business processes have an objective and each activity a purpose - justified in terms of value add. However, ‘why’ is not part of business process, it is added to ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ to become training for ‘who’.
… a series of screens or actions taken within an application or similar technology. Confusingly, these are also commonly referred to as ‘process’ but are in fact workflows showing steps taken at the lowest ‘how to’ level. Most often used to assist technology design or drive automation.
There’s one other point about business process, I should mention while I am at it.
For all the good stuff they bring to the party (and they do), none of those many business process tools, methodologies, frameworks, concepts or systems will write your business process for you. Only you can do that. Only you know how your business works or, rather, how you need it to work.
Check the end of this article to find out how Vendira can help with the inevitable, dreaded ‘blank sheet of paper’ moment. You don’t have to face this alone.
In business process terms, ‘good quality’ is all about being effective and efficient.
Effective = doing the right things – the things that really add value
Efficient = doing things right – first time, every time
Make it easy.
A thoroughly considered business process will identify the ‘right thing’ simply and clearly, at the point it needs to be done. So, how do you help make it easy to execute, to do them right - first time, every time?
You will need to delve into the ‘how to’ of your process and examine the tasks that underpin the key activities. Standardise, streamline and simplify such things as templates, inputs and outputs etc. This is a basic must-do. No one wants their ‘creativity’ to be stifled, but equally no one wants to re-invent the wheel every time they send an email.
Similarly, truly determining what can, as well as what should, be done, is also key. Does each activity provide maximum value add – for everyone? It will mean looking beyond simply achieving the basic goal(s) of each activity.
This is where you really start to reap the benefit of a complete, cohesive and cross-functional business process.
For example, what can be done up front, say in the definition and design of a managed service product, that will smooth the path for people further on? Consider how you might increase the effectiveness and efficiency of those who are to quote, sell and bill the product. Make it easy. Identify and determine any specific or unique requirements such as rate cards, SKU to billing etc., before they are called upon to do it. Make this a standard output of an earlier process activity.
No one should be left to their own devices to guess, invent or otherwise come up with, their own means to achieve any of the key steps in your process. No one should have to go back or spend time searching for the information they need to complete a known task. Make it easy.
Providing the right information and simplifying the routine elements of each activity will also help identify where personal skills or professional judgement needs to be applied. In this regard, clearly define and communicate any related limits, authority or other relevant criteria.
A business process should also give the routes to resolution where those limits are exceeded, or other issues arise.
Any process is just peachy when every decision point leads to ‘YES’!
A ‘good quality’ business process truly enables best practices to be easily applied to the entire life of any managed service product – end-to-end.
Right Reverend Host: "I’m afraid you've got a bad Egg, Mr. Jones!" The Curate: "Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!"
Yes, this business process should cover the entire managed service product journey equally well.
From the first forming of a product idea - the potential value of which is proven by a thoroughly worked business case - through the design and development phases, to product sale/realisation and ongoing maintenance (technology and product life-cycle management), right up to the final farewell. The end of sale and support seeing the process driving product retirement/removal.
It has been our experience that, where a product management process exists at all, it is rarely complete in the sense that it reflects the entire managed services product journey. Some of these processes have been pretty good, too. They happily aligned with others such as Supplier Management, Finance and Sales, but weren’t quite so hot when it came to working with those performing proof of concept or Customer account Life-cycle Management - upgrades, downgrades, changes, decommissioning and EOL activities.
Maybe this is because ‘Product Management’ is often the title of a business entity in an organisation – the group or department where those with the title ‘Product Manager’ sit.
Of course, the specific responsibilities of these product managers vary from business to business, although the pressure to pull great managed service products out of their respective hats, is pretty consistent!
We have found that any process(es) they might have, often begin and end within the confines of these groups and concern only their most urgent or principle job-related activities.
It’s a similar story with ‘the strategy people’, the development teams, the technology life-cycle management folk and so on. Their processes are created in isolation, the chain of events essentially broken.
A complete end-to-end Product Management Business Process, undoubtedly, needs to be developed for, and applied across, a variety of business functions in a balanced manner.
It requires ongoing leadership and commitment to ensure this balance, so that the process is seen as a whole, rather than just viewed in light of just one or two of its component parts - the bits that usually shout the loudest.
For some organisations it will be as much about cultural transformation and leadership as it is about a documented process. Especially when it is coupled with the introduction of productisation concepts.
There needs to be a genuine understanding that, what happened at the beginning of the product’s journey, is just as important during its development, delivery, ongoing management and what happens at the end of it.
The things which turned a commercially viable idea into a commercially successful product, also play a part in recognising when the journey needs to end.
Simply put, a commercially successful managed service is one which sells and makes money for your business.
Commercial success is rarely accidental!
But, can a business process really ensure this?
Well, it can, in so far as the application of best practice throughout the process can ensure due diligence is performed on any managed service product from the outset.
With each clearly defined activity seeking to maximise and add known value, the process can only result in effective and efficient design, development and delivery. In many respects, your good quality business process has no alternative but to achieve the commercial success that was predicted or expected.
As ever, thorough research, planning and discussion early on pays dividends further down the line. Decision points or ‘gates’, at the start of the process drive all proposed products through proper reviews at concept stage, before any further work is undertaken.
Does the product align with business strategy? What perceived business problem might it solve and how will this product achieve it? What potential issues regarding cost and/or pricing might there be?
This early consideration also begins to ‘flesh out’ important details about the potential new product and can identify those which might be of significant value to the business. Only those that are considered commercially viable, or potentially viable (worth further effort), go on to have a business case developed around them.
Only after its potential value has been determined will the product be designed to cost and price, as well as quoted, sold, delivered and billed with ease. How your Customers consume this product will be known and clear to all.
Customers will reap the benefit of a worthwhile product that delivers on its promise and so increases their trust in you as a provider.
There are no losers in this scenario!
How Vendira Can Help
“Tis hatched and shall be so” ― William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew
“It should be a given that the application of a good quality, end-to-end, product management business process, is fundamental to commercially successful managed services, for any service provider. “
Vendira will help you achieve all that is promised in that statement.
They know how to define, design and deploy your ‘good quality, end to end, product management business process’ with supporting templates that enable you to succeed.
In doing so they will:
Help you evolve your operating model
Accelerate the journey to effective product and service development
To get in touch email firstname.lastname@example.org