Practice: business

XIII.1 January + February 2006
Page: 41
Digital Citation

To consolidate or distribute?

Linn Johnk, Meera Manahan, Tom Graefe

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Every customer-centered design (CCD) organization has at one time or another asked itself some version of this question: "How should we be organized so we can be the most effective customer advocates in our organization?" The CCD community at HP is actively wrestling with this issue. One specific element of the resulting strategy that has emerged is what we call "virtual centralization."

HP provides products and services to a vast range of customers around the world. HP as a business has addressed the scope, scale, and diversity of its businesses by creating a hybrid centralized-decentralized structure. This structure supports opportunities to optimize for company and customers' goals across its businesses, while simultaneously placing expertise and accountability within the businesses. The CCD community mirrors this structure and comprises a centralized group and groups housed in the business units.

The challenge this presented for the CCD community is that while individual groups were often trying to accomplish similar goals, there was little cross-community coordination or support. The groups or individuals within the different businesses all were looking for ways to increase the voice of the customer worldwide, improve the user-centered process of product and service design, and decrease the cost of delivering these services. While we were sometimes successful at optimizing these activities locally, the benefits were not achieved at a companywide level. Rather, when looked at across HP, the result can be a fragmentary, inefficient approach that runs the risk of duplication of effort, fails to leverage best practices and HP knowledge, and provides inconsistent direction to executives and product-development teams.

The merger of HP and Compaq, which brought together two disparate CCD cultures, underscored the need to examine the organization of CCD across the company. HP's DNA included a rich heritage of organic growth, with a loose federation of business units distributed geographically, within which many customer experience-oriented teams and individuals flourished. Compaq's centralized customer-centered (Human Factors) group, on the other hand, had grown via integration with Digital's central group, another example of a single center of customer-centered excellence in a company. After the merger it was clear that neither model fit exactly with the needs or reality of the new HP.

We felt that the time had come to examine new ways to strengthen the CCD community overall by taking a pan-HP perspective. At the same time, it was clear we needed to take into account the unique demands of implementation in each business. Therefore, the central CCD group pulled together a companywide council chartered to articulate and maximize the impact of the HP customer-centered design community in driving the best customer experience.

Virtual Centralization. Because of the diversity of HP's businesses, it was clear that a totally centralized, top-down approach was out of the question. Therefore, we set our sights initially on ways to promote dialogue across the community. Through mechanisms like a CCD newsletter, a CCD community Web site, and the CCD council, we developed both an understanding of the community's needs and their business context. This dialog, along with an analysis of key issues facing HP and its customers, yielded the mission and goals for our longer-range efforts:

  • Decrease the cost and increase the effectiveness of our services
  • Provide appropriate synergy and standards across HP businesses, products, and services to enhance the customer experience
  • Create stronger structural links between key corporate customer experience initiatives and metrics and CCD process and activities
  • Nurture and extend CCD worldwide competence for HP as a global company

The council is accountable for devising and implementing strategies and plans to meet these goals.

Virtual Centralization at Work. We can best explain how virtual centralization works for us by describing some of our specific projects, beginning with one designed to impact the goal listed first. HP has a companywide initiative known as the One Voice Program that aims to develop consistent practices for engaging outside vendors. The intent of this program is not only to ensure cost savings, but also to bring about other partnering benefits, such as assuring a shared understanding of customer needs, goals, and HP solutions across the development teams, including external vendors.

We recognized that processes for engaging outside CCD vendors were very inconsistent across business units. Following the model of the One Voice initiative, the CCD community worked together to develop a supplier evaluation and selection process that met corporate objectives while still taking legitimate local needs into account. In the end, community involvement helped gain credibility and buy-in for both the process and its results. It also showed that the virtually centralized community could move beyond a casual community of practice to one that could have a concrete, quantifiable business impact. A side benefit was that we developed a relationship with a new corporate partner—HP's companywide Indirect Procurement group.

We have followed a similar model in our work on the second challenge, namely creating cross-HP standards to enhance the HP customer experience. Working within our CCD council, we determined that a useful starting point would be to define a common CCD process model and a standard HP usability scorecard. The intended goal was to facilitate intra-community communication, and also to improve communications with customers and key internal stakeholders about our roles, responsibilities, and deliverables.

One benefit of virtual centralization has been to strengthen the relationship between CCD processes and larger corporate efforts.

Early on we had to address the concern of whether such a process model would lead to regimentation "process cops." However, as we shared process models, it became apparent that there were more similarities than differences. Reconciling the differences produced a richer, more comprehensive model. Those not currently using the complete model saw it as a useful tool for advocating to their stakeholders for building a more comprehensive CCD process. Because our process model is comprehensive, it has helped to make the case that CCD practitioners add value at multiple levels—not just focusing on product and service design, but also contributing to the total customer experience and brand identity.

We created a standard HP usability scorecard as a tool to use in the standard process. This serves two main purposes. First, it helps communicate the results of usability activities in a common fashion across all parts of HP. Second, it helps align CCD with a larger corporate scorecard initiative. As part of HP's Total Customer Experience program, HP regularly measures customer satisfaction at multiple touch points in the experience lifecycle. We see it as critical that our community be able to not only champion CCD as a systematic means to affect and improve the customer experience, but show how measurable improvements in usability metrics tie in to these larger customer satisfaction measurement results.

As was the case in developing the HP common CCD process, the HP usability scorecard is a synthesis. When we reviewed scorecards across HP, we found, on one hand, a large degree of consensus around core performance and preference metrics and, on the other hand, variability due to domain differences, such as those related to the study of Web-based e-commerce functions as compared to hardware usability. We reconciled these differences by leveraging industry standards including the NIST CIF work and ISO SW usability recommendations to promote a common core set of metrics. To these we added a set of domain-specific extensions. The group also recognized the need for continued innovation in our process and metrics, such as improving how we measure the emotive components of the customer experience.

Virtual Centralization and Strategic Alignment. Our work on these initiatives has demonstrated how virtual centralization can be the means of affecting CCD-community-driven change across HP. As our examples show, one benefit of virtual centralization has been to strengthen the relationship between CCD processes and larger corporate efforts, such as those for rationalizing procurement practices and for building customer satisfaction and loyalty. The future will bring continuing work to align CCD with additional corporate efforts, such as reducing material warranty costs that are due to usability problems, or participating in creation of global centers of excellence. This level of involvement in business strategy would not be possible without our virtually centralized community working toward a unified CCD vision while balancing the local needs of the CCD groups in the business units.

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Linn Johnk
Hewlett-Packard Company

Meera Manahan
Hewlett-Packard Company

Tom Graefe
Hewlett-Packard Company

About the authors:

Linn Johnk is a team lead in the Customer-Centered Design Services group at Hewlett Packard. Linn has been doing customer-centered design at HP for 20 years. Linn's current activities and interests include supporting the development and application of cross-company user interaction guidelines, understanding key culture-specific factors to consider when doing customer research and product development in emerging markets, and working to help the HP customer-centered design community enhance its role and achieve operational excellence.
Meera Manahan manages the Customer-Centered Design Services group at Hewlett-Packard. She has been with HP/Compaq for 14 years, and prior to working for HP & Compaq, she worked at Lockheed Engineering & Sciences and American General. Her current interests include helping the HF community within HP develop customer-centered strategies that create greater business value for the company.
Tom Graefe is a team lead in the Customer-Centered Design Services group at Hewlett Packard. Prior to working for HP, he worked at AT&T Bell Labs, Motorola, Digital Equipment Corporation, and Compaq. He is interested in integrating customer-centered design with corporate customer experience measurement models, and recently he has been working to extend HP's customer centered design program to better account for aspects of distributed cognition and social-emotional measurement.


Susan Dray and David Siegel
Dray & Associates, Inc.
2007 Kenwood Parkway
Minneapolis, MN 55405, USA
Fax: 617-377-0363

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