Welcome to the Service Zen Blog

Hello and welcome to the Service Zen blog. This is where our team will regularly share practical content, tools, and processes for entrepreneurship, strategy, innovation, sales & marketing, service & product management and intrapreneurship that we’ve learned directly from the field.

Our firsthand experience of what actually works inside of large companies like Workopolis, TD Bank, BMO and many others has taught us a lot about tools like the Business Model Canvas (BMC) and the Value Proposition Canvas (VPC), and about methodologies like Service Management (ITIL), Business Process Management (BPM), Lean Start-up, Design Sprints, Agile and Design Thinking. We learn so much about what works and what doesn’t that we wanted to have an outlet to share our insights with you!


Stop Wasting Time and Money on Process Modeling!

You’re leading a digital transformation project…or business process transformation project.  You’ve done SME interviews, customer journey mapping,  UX and UI design, management reviews, and process redesign workshops…In the end, all of this work will be wasted if it can’t be turned into working software and systems.  This is the main principle of Agile – working software over BRUF (Big Requirements Up Front).

So, how do you turn UX/UI design and user requirements into working systems and software?  It’s one thing to have user stories and conversations, but words can only communicate so much.  You need a common visual language shared between business and IT.  Like the Tower of Babel, we can’t build something great if we’re not speaking the same language.  BPMN is the common language of business and IT.  It is the standard language supported by all major business process workflow software vendors – IBM, SAP, Pega Systems, Oracle, Appian, …Good BPMN turns all the design and customer journey mapping work into a lasting asset shared across business and IT.

How do you get started with BPMN?  Learn the language and use the right tool.  You don’t have time to lose…you only get one chance to run a successful transformation project.



Why Your Next Process Improvement Project Will Fail

Companies know they need to break down silos and increase cross-functional collaboration to succeed in fast-changing global markets. Organizations that fail to manage operations end to end will continuously lose ground to competitors who have optimized their end to end operations. Typically, solutions like Business Process Management (BPM), Lean, Six Sigma, ITIL, Business Process Re-engineering, etc., are applied…and they fail (1).

While well meaning, operational excellence and business process improvement initiatives fail for two key reasons:

  • Focus too narrowly within functions
  • Don’t break down ownership of processes and information that are zealously guarded by business units

Here’s how you can achieve success in your next process improvement project and smash through the silos that prevent breakthrough performance improvements.

First, an end to end operating model needs to be adopted. Marginal improvements of business processes within functional units won’t achieve the goals companies are looking to achieve.

An end to end operating model rests on foundation of 3 underlying principles:

  1. Strategic – Target breakthrough performance that single functions could not achieve, and make cross-functional units accountable for this performance
  2. Tactical – Define all the end to end processes; radically simplify the entire operating model; an enterprise process model (or value streams map) should fit on one page
  3. Culture – Ensure organizational and cultural change is focused on collaboration; reward and promote leaders who work collaboratively across functions to improve business processes



The Employee Handbook Most Employees Wish They Had

The Valve Handbook for New Employees has become legendary, for good reason. If you’re not familiar with Valve Software, they make some of the best reviewed and most sold video games in history. Half-Life, Counter-Strike and the game platform Steam are a few of their best known titles.

Valve’s management methodology represents the post-industrial method of management. Pioneered by companies like W.L Gore & Associates, Semco and Google, post-industrial management has several characteristics that differentiate it from industrial-age organizations:

  • Flat structure – no, or few, levels of hierarchy & no job titles
  • Self-organizing teams
  • Transparency – performance, pay, projects,…

Can a company in a different industry – banking, insurance, manufacturing – adopt a management model like Valve’s? Can an organization with a traditional management structure change? Can government work like this?

I believe the answer is Yes. Semco is a manufacturer; Morning Star is in tomato processing; Zappos is retail. More and more examples of successful companies using post-industrial management models are reported in the business press every year. The fact is, companies still using an industrial-age management model will find themselves constantly losing ground to competitors with the courage to innovate their management structure.

Can You Be Happy, Smart and Useful?

I love Derek Sivers. His blog, TED talks and books are amazing. A wonderful writer, Derek can convey complex subjects in a few lines. Case in point is his recent blog entry, “Happy, Smart or Useful”.  If you are making a big decision in life, work or school, this article will really help you. Can you be all three – Happy, Smart and Useful? Derek argues yes, but it will take some effort on your part, and saying no to many things. Related to this is Derek’s  fantastic video blog post “Hell Yes, or No”.

What I’m Doing Now

I’m living in burbs of Toronto (west side!), Ontario, Canada – surprisingly, Toronto is now North America’s 4th largest metropolis, after Mexico City, New York and LA (yes, like these cities, traffic is a nightmare 😦 .

I’m focused on my work, health and learning. I spend all my time on these things (in order of time spent):

  • Full-time husband and home chef. My favorite resources for learning to cook like a pro are Ruhlman.com and The 4-Hour Chef
  • Doing service and process design, strategy, and service model innovation at Canadian-owned, multi-product insurance and financial services organization
  • Founder of Service Zen
  • Learning and applying methods into my work as a business and process designer: Design Thinking , Agile and Business Model Generation / Value Proposition Design
  • My other area of focus at work is finding better ways for linking business and technology. The current ways IT collects requirements from business and turns them into systems and software sucks! Agile techniques combined with Design Thinking, Business Process Management, Decision Management Service Oriented Architecture seem to offer a better way, but I still haven’t found the secret sauce.
  • I’m doing Starting Strength program with goal of getting stronger. Goal is to deadlift 350 lbs by end of year.
  • Golf – goal is to become 80 or better golfer by 2018. Tougher than I thought. I need to work on short game and putting next summer…
  • Listening to podcasts on my commute. Currently listening to Tim Ferris, James Altucher, Design Matters, Freakonomics, Mark Maron, Startup, Brian Koppelman
  • Have been doing Wim Hof Method for 6 months. Really cool, literally! Have tried meditation over the years but find this method more practical for me. Occasionally do guided meditation using Headspace app or Tara Brach podcast
  • Reading one book a week. I’d like to read more fiction, but I naturally gravitate to business, history and big idea books. Working my way through this list. Big idea books influencing me the most lately are:
    • Anti-Fragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – This book blew my mind!  It’s a philosophy of life book that completes Taleb’s Incerto trilogy (Fooled By Randomness and Black Swan)
    • Creative Confidence (work) – How to incorporate Design Thinking into organizations. From the founders of IDEO and Stanford Design School.
    • Alexander Osterwalder’s two books: Business Model Generation and Value Proposition Design (work)
    • The Decision Model (work) by Larry Goldberg and Barbara von Halle – The way IT collects requirements from business and turns them into systems and software sucks! This book proposes a practical and complete method for aligning business and IT.
    • Thinking Fast and Slow (life and work) by Daniel Kahneman – Best book I’ve read in years. If you’re curious why people act the way they do, this book is for you!
    • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – This book blew my mind! Incredible, provocative, controversial statement on just about every page. Engaging and informative. Relatively easy to read and only 400 pages, it covers homo sapiens rise from insignificant ape to ruling the world.
    • Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber – Completely overturns conventional wisdom on economics and history of money. Heard about this book from Seth Godin.
    • Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond – Like Debt, overthrows established thinking in a social science. In this case, history and fate of civilizations.
    • The two other big idea books that pop into my mind often, in life and work contexts, are Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History” and Gary Hamel’s “The Future of Management” . Both books are several years old, and the central arguments in the books have been refuted by many. But I still think they hold up. In a nutshell, Fukuyama’s statement that democracy would win out over all other forms of government due to the natural desire for peace and well-being, and Hamel’s argument that management innovation, not product/service, or strategy, or tactics, or operational innovation, are what sets great companies with long histories (GE, Toyota, DuPont) apart from their competitors.

My primary passion is helping people transform and innovate their businesses. I provide free advice!  Contact me to arrange something. You can also email me: lee@service-zen.com

If my activities or priorities change, I’ll update this page. Last update was October 2016.