Key Process Cycles:
Start Your New Structure By Thinking Horizontally
Watch: How to design key process cycles for the Customer, Product, and Employee journeys.
What Are Key Process Cycles
While every business is different, there are only four key processes that every business must master and that your new structure must enable. They are:
- The Customer Cycle: How should we best identify, engage, sell, retain, support, and develop new and existing customers?
- The Product Cycle: How should we best identify, design, develop, and deploy the right new products and simultaneously grow, maintain, or end existing ones?
- The Employee Cycle: How should we best identify, engage, hire, retain, support, develop, and discharge our employees/contractors so we have an engaged and high-performing workforce?
- The Strategic Execution Cycle: How should we best identify, communicate, align, and execute on the right strategy against changing conditions?
I am using the term “cycle” because each core process must get better and faster with each iteration. Like pushing the handle up and down on a spinning top, or pressing your foot on a flywheel, each strategic initiative, customer, product, and employee goes on a journey from inception to completion and that cycle repeats again. The goal is to get better and faster with each iteration.
Better, Faster, Each Iteration
This is critically important. If the new structure does not make it better/faster/easier/more profitable for the company to set and execute on the right strategy; to engage and delight new and existing customers; to design, develop, and deploy the right products; and to identify and collaborate with the right staffing resources over time, then it is not the right structure. Therefore, we need to start our structural design process by first understanding what ideal cycles would look like in your business.
The Key Processes Cycle tool is used in the Designed to Scale Coaching Program. Using this tool, together we will design the ideal Customer, Product, and Employee journey for the current business strategy. The resulting pictures don’t have to be complicated or fancy. In fact, they shouldn’t be. They only need to provide enough context for you and the team to understand what should be happening in an ideal journey and where breakdowns are occurring. Once the new structure is designed, you’ll use these maps as a teaching aid to help the team understand which roles in the new structure are accountable for each step in these processes.
The Customer Cycle
The Customer Cycle clarifies and answers this question: “For our strategy, how should we best identify, engage, sell, retain, support, and develop new and existing customers?” Creating a Customer Cycle should not be complicated. The map just needs enough detail to capture the key steps in the ideal customer journey.
Below is a simple Customer Cycle map that was created by the fictional character Charlie for her company PeoplePower in the book Designed to Scale. It begins with Business Strategy at the top of the map and then cycles clockwise to Brand Architecture & Awareness, Lead Generation, Pre-Qualification, Sales Conversion including Pre-Sales Engineering (Pre-Sales Solution Design), Contracting, followed by Customer Onboarding, Customer Adoption, Customer Support, Customer Renewals and ending with Metrics & Review Enablement, before starting again with Business Strategy.
Now, obviously these steps are not totally sequential. For example, Metrics & Review Enablement is how the organization measures and learns and it must happen at each step of the cycle. But the idea is to map out what an ideal journey for a customer would look like with enough clarity that it could be easily digested by a new employee as an introduction to “how we strive to do things around here.” If your business has multiple channels such as B2C and B2B, then it will need to show where those channels diverge at the top of the funnel and come back together again at implementation. You and your coach will design a custom Customer Cycle for your business model and strategy.
Each step of the process obviously has its own sub-process too. For instance, Pre-Qualification itself is a process. But it is not helpful or necessary to add an overwhelming level of detail by mapping out the sub-processes at each key step of the overall journey. No map represents the actual territory, but a good map is still useful by focusing on the salient details. The idea is to capture enough level of detail to bring color and context, but not so much that it is impossible to decipher.
It is very critical that the Customer Cycle shows the steps that customers should go through in an ideal reality, not the status quo of the current reality. The goal is to build shared consciousness across the team that, if we followed these steps outlined in the Customer Cycle and did it well, we would have more and happier customers and a more profitable and successful business too.
After your new structure is designed, you and your coach will add accountabilities to show which function or role is accountable for each step of the process (based on the new structure).
The Product Cycle
The Product Cycle answers this question: “For our strategy, how should we best identify, design, develop, and deploy the right new products and simultaneously grow, maintain, or end existing ones?” If yours is a services business, or has a services component, there will be a cycle comparable to the Product Cycle. As an example, below is a picture of the ideal Product Cycle for PeoplePower as shown in my book Designed to Scale:
Just like the Customer Cycle, the Product Cycle begins with Business Strategy (because all cycles should begin with Business Strategy!). It then cycles around through the key steps in the process including Market Analysis, Product Strategy, Technical Architecture, Upstream Production Planning, and then through a series of steps to actually design, develop, and prepare each product.
PeoplePower’s product is divided into two main categories. One for Payroll & Tax administration and the other around Benefits administration. For each category, there is a pairing of a Business Analyst and Product Owner to bring clarity and the business case to product features. Production teams include software engineering, UI, UX, software quality assurance, and Product Marketing to ensure that each product or feature is well positioned by Downstream Product Launch Coordination, Product Hosting & Performance, Product Engagement, Product Fixes & Support, Product Mix Optimization, and finally with Metrics & Review Enablement before cycling around again. If a business has multiple product categories with a different development path, then that can be reflected as another path around the same cycle. To be determined together with your coach.
Mapping the product journey in this way makes it much easier to have shared insights and conversations about what needs to happen within the Product Cycle. Later, once you and your coach add in accountabilities, it will also help the team to understand with its associated collateral and education materials. Your company’s product teams will be different depending on the business needs. A non-software company would have a different production management cycle where different accountabilities lie in the new structure.
With a simple picture like this one, it is much easier to have cross-functional discussions, identify any differences in definitions, and have a helpful debate about what should be happening in each area because there is a shared frame of reference.
The Employee Cycle
Mapping out the Employee Cycle in a way that is similar to the Customer and Product Cycles is also very helpful before designing your structure. The Employee Cycle seeks to answer the question, “For our strategy, how should we best identify, engage, hire, retain, support, develop, and discharge our employees so we have an engaged and high-performing workforce?” The workforce includes both employees and contractors.
Just as with the other cycles, the Employee Cycle begins with Business Strategy and cycles around to Workforce Planning, Recruiting & Interviewing Support, Hiring & Benefits Administration, Employee Onboarding Support, Job Tools & Analytics Support, Performance Management Support, Human Resource Compliance & Liability Prevention, Compensation & Incentives Support, Talent & Career Development Support, Metrics & Review Enablement, and starts again with Business Strategy. Again, these key steps are not perfectly sequential, and the idea is to capture the most critical steps of the ideal employee journey.
The Strategic Execution Cycle
There is a mission-critical process that We recommend for faster and more agile strategic execution. We call it… drum roll… the Strategic Execution Process. It supports and surrounds the entire structure, including the customer journey, product journey, and employee journey, as well as every other process in the business. Basically, if you can make smart investments in optimizing the sessions, participants, process, and cadence for strategic execution—including your Leadership Team model—you will have a well-run and well-informed organization that is kicking butt on its most important initiatives and gets better over time.
This sample Strategic Execution Cadence shows how PeoplePower (the fictional company used as an example in my book Designed to Scale) built its strategic execution process. You will notice that it is divided into two halves: longer-range Strategy Sessions (the top half) and shorter-range Tactical Sessions (the bottom half). This distinction is important. Short-range pressure will always overpower longer-range development unless you design against it, so strategy sessions must be primarily focused on the long-range.
Depending on its business model, size, and complexity, your business may need different types of sessions. It may even need a few more or a few less. You and your coach will determine what’s right for your particular business. But the essence will be the same across all types of businesses. Segment the long-range from the short-range and gather together a critical mass of individuals to make good, data-driven decisions that get translated into short-range tactical execution.
With one exception, which is the last session listed in the table, these sessions are not one-way communications with one individual telling others what has happened and what is going to happen. Quite the opposite. Each session requires a true “meeting of the minds,” and thus it must be well-designed, in the right sequence, and with the right people involved.
This means that, just like the Ultimate Leadership Team model to be implemented in the Level 3 Strategic Execution Program, these sessions must have one accountable owner, a designated facilitator, a clear statement of purpose, the right mix of attendees, a sound process, and the right follow up. You then repeat the cycle and get better at it with each iteration.
How this Program Works
For use of this Key Processes module, coaching is required. It is part of the larger Designed to Scale Coaching program. The value of doing these cycles is that they result in a new structure that in turn supports these cycles. This is why we can say this: If the new structure does not make it better/faster/easier/more profitable for the company to set and execute on the right strategy; to engage and delight new and existing customers; to design, develop, and deploy the right products; and to identify and collaborate with the right staffing resources over time, then it is not the right structure.
As part of the overall program, you will be interviewed about how the customer, product, and employee journeys work today and should work. Your coach will design each cycle for you. You will then have the opportunity to review and edit each cycle together. Later on, based on the new structure, you and your coach will map in the roles responsible for each step in each process. This is a really fast way to validate our design thinking and bring life to the new structure. The maps are built using Google docs so it’s easy to collaborate, make copies, see a version history, and make it your own.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why is coaching required?
The real purpose of mapping these cycles is to identify what should be happening (not what is). This requires coaching. Mapping key process cycles is the first step to designing a new structure, which is crucial for improving these processes.
Alternatively, if you don’t want coaching, or if your company doesn’t qualify for coaching yet, just read Designed to Scale for step-by-step instructions, open Google Drawings or another mapping tool, and get busy. :-)
2. This looks too simple. Where are the details?
Details can be added later. But don’t get too deep into sub-processes for this exercise. In this exercise, we won’t map out every step of Lead Generation, for example, which is a sub-process. The Lead Generation sub-process should be owned and mastered by the Lead Gen head, who will be identified in the upcoming new structure. We are mapping one level up to identify and capture hand-offs across functions, not within functions. That’s what makes it valuable.
3. How are roles added to each step?
Each key step will have box added next to it that shows which role is accountable for that step. This is added after the new structure is designed.
4. Shouldn’t I involve my team in mapping these cycles?
Yes, you absolutely should. My recommendation is that you have a draft of your best thinking in place before involving the larger team. Also, don’t attempt to match accountabilities to each step before designing the new structure and allowing the team enough time to design, digest, and discuss the key steps in each process.
Having done this exercise with hundreds of leadership teams, we are still shocked at the level of misalignment it usually reveals. Many people on most teams just focus on their part of the process without thinking about what needs to happen at other parts of the process, upstream and downstream. Many times, we have seen the same issue described using different terms. “Wait, that’s what you mean by Marketing?? I thought you meant what Sales Operations does today! In essence, the team has been advocating for similar improvements and results, but with different terminology. This exercise helps to put a stop to all of that.
5. Wait a minute … where is the Profit Cycle?
You may have noticed that we did not mention a profit cycle. No doubt, profit is essential. But it is an outcome of doing the other cycles well and better with each iteration. Put another way, if you focus most of your energy on optimizing the Strategic Execution, Customer, Product, and Employee Cycles and operating efficiently and effectively while doing them, then healthy profits will flow to the bottom line just as water flows downhill. On the other hand, if you try to maximize profits or cash flow without also doing these other processes continually better, then you may get a short-term improvement in profits but at a long-term cost that will destroy enterprise value.
6. My business is too complex to map this way. What are other options?
We’ve mapped key process cycles for client companies with billions in sales, multiple product lines, multiple geographies, and across complicated regulatory environments. In fact, it is even more critical to do these maps for complex businesses. We can map left to right if necessary, but we prefer the imagery of a circle because we am conveying the idea that these processes are not one-and-done. At every iteration, your company must get better at how it does each of them.
How to Apply
If you like this way of thinking and want to engage in a similar process for your company, schedule a consultation.