Why we study Demand

I was pairing on a workshop recently, the objective of which was to help a leadership team understand their work (i.e. the work being done by their division).  We were using a Systems Thinking model to guide the group, and our first step was to identify the Demand coming into the division (i.e. the requests for work that they received, whether through formal channels (forms, client meetings, etc) or informal (hallway chats are a great example)).

While the group was able to quickly identify many channels and sources of Demand across the division, I could sense some trepidation with the process.  So I took a brief segue to discuss WHY we study demand:

The reason we study demand is for the insights it brings into the work we end up doing, which can be broken down into four main categories:

  1. The work that we can do right now that would create the most value for our customer
  2. Other work that, while not being the most valuable activity that we could be doing right now, has real value for the customer
  3. Failure demand (i.e. work that we are having to do now, because of something we didn’t do right the first time); and
  4. Work that we shouldn’t be doing at all (either because someone else should be doing it, or because it creates no value at all for our customers)

With this clarity, the group quickly understood why we were studying Demand: to get a clear understanding about where the real value was being created in their team, so that they could remove or reassign all the other activities and focus their energies on delivering this value to the customer.

It is certainly true that this identification process is only the start: the real work begins when we start to say no to the ‘valueless’ work, and when we change our processes and practices to reduce and remove failure demand.  But the WHY is crucial to the process.  The WHY uncovers the simple truth about why we’re there in the first place: to serve our customers and deliver value to them as best we can.

Anything less is an abrogation of our promise to our customer.