Standardization in World Service
When I first read Freedom from Command and Control (by John Seddon) I hit one of those moments that give one pause.  It’s like a kick to the head . . . a jolt.  Some react differently than me when confronted with a counter intuitive truth or a management paradox and immediately reject it.  Not me . . . I have gone to such depth in learning and improving service organizations that you can feel it when you have heard something significant that will change your course.

Here it is . . . standardization is the enemy of service organizations

Sounds harmless enough, but it changes everything.  The way you think about tools-based improvement programs, documentation, scripts, information technology, and much more.   It all changes.

Lean manufacturing tells you to standardize as I have seen so many lean tool-based programs advocate.  Folks running around for the one best way or doing 5S . . . all non-sense.

I have consulted with Fortune 500 technology companies standardizing processes so business analysts could write requirements, system engineers and programmers code and schedules can be met.  But the problem was the back and forth between the technology company and the customer.  The customer rarely got what would work on the front-line and the technology company would blame the dumb or rigid user.

Contact centers with IVR systems that require a standard message.  Or the script for the customer service representative (CSR) that has to be complied to when the customer calls.  For the most part . . . all waste.


Standardization does not allow for the absorption of the variety of demand offered by service customers. 

The waste is in costs and customer service.  If a customer can’t understand the tree of options offered an IVR they are forced to call back to “get it right.”  Or if the script a CSR is forced to comply with doesn’t fit a customer demand . . . the customer has to call back or try to negotiate a response with the CSR.  Additional handling of a customer either loses them or they are forced to call again (failure demand).

Variety of demand is best absorbed by humans and NOT technology.  To introduce technology in places where humans are needed is to increase costs for buying the technology and increasing the costs to serve a customer.  Technology change management tends to miss this as they gather requirements without knowledge and a rush to meet deadlines.

Call center and government management miss it because the prevailing thinking is that standardization is always good because they can control things.  The truth is that they are making themselves less competitive with increased costs and worse service.

I have learned many other counter-intuitive truths and management paradoxes working with systems thinking, but this opened my eyes.  I hope it does for you too.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at or LinkedIn at