Do You Design Against Demand?

Here is a very simple 2 step improvement idea for you:

  1. Understand the customer demands that are placed on your organisation
  2. Design your infrastructure and processes to meet those demands.

Or, to put it a little less managerially, find out why your customers call you, then work out the best way to give them what they want.

It isn’t a very clever idea

It isn’t a very clever idea at all, in fact when you sit back and think about it, as ideas go, it sits in the “blindingly obvious” bucket.

The funny thing is, that obvious as it is, we don’t do it.  We don’t design for customers, we design for ourselves, we design for efficiency.  We build large operations that maximise the economies of scale without really worrying if the solution meets the customer’s needs.

Nobody is that foolish

Now I know what you are thinking, nobody could be that foolish, so let me prove the point.

In London most fire stations are full of fire engines.  A fire engine costs about a quarter of a million pounds and is exactly what you need to get 8 firemen and their equipment to a fire in a building and save people’s lives.

They are a very efficient way to put out large fires.

But they are not a solution designed against demand.

Of the 999 calls that the London Fire Brigade deal with most are rescue calls or minor incidents or false alarms and very few are large fires.

Unfortunately, if the only way you have to get to a fire in a rubbish bin (or a cat in a tree) is a fire engine then a fire engine is what you will use.

A better solution

Following a test at the Olympic Games the London Fire Brigade have invested in a fleet of minis that hold two fire men, their emergency and first aid equipment and 6 fire extinguishers.

The Minis are:

  • Cheaper than fire engines
  • Faster than fire engines, (would you rather try to hustle a lorry through London’s narrow streets in rush hour or a Mini Cooper with its siren blaring?)
  • And often better than a fire engine, as the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine.

Just what you need for a minor emergency, with the added benefit that they make people smile.

All of which begs the question…

Do you know why your customers phone you and have you designed your solution around that?

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  1. Hi James,
    Systems thinking in action. I like it! I also like the Minis too.

    Here’s my question based on what the gentleman said in the interview: I know that the Games required an extraordinary response to a once in a lifetime occasion but will the fire brigade embrace this wholeheartedly and take a lead from the police, paramedics and the ambulance services with their uses of different vehicles to suit different types of demand?


  2. James,

    I like it. Imagine if companies would think of the customer and the customer’s needs first, before designing products, services, processes, and experiences. It requires a lot of work, i.e., listening to customers, etc., but the payoff is huge.

    Sean Van Tyne said in a presentation last week that covered The 12 Essentials of the Customer Experience: Know your “Do-Fors,” i.e., a company must understand what customers want the product or service to do for them. Don’t communicate what you do but what you do for customers – in a language they understand. What problem are they trying to solve? What need are they filling? (I’ve got a blog post on his talk coming later this week.)

    I’ve been saying this a lot lately… common sense isn’t so common. Some of this, as you say, is obvious, but we just don’t do it. Thanks for your thoughts on the subject.


  3. Hello James

    There is a gentlemen that speaks to me (Werner Erhard). And he make the distinction between right/wrong and workability. And your story gets me present to workability.

    Understanding the nature of demand and then instigating practices-processes-technology that allows us to respond intelligently to that demand aids workability.

    Now the issue as I see it is that the game of business is much more influenced/shaped/interested in/ run by right and wrong then it is about what is workable. It occurs to me that you experienced this on a daily basis.