Relevance and the Process Mindset for Managed Service Providers
In business, across industries, every activity is part of a larger process, whether that process is formally defined or not. Every process must align with a purpose, and activity-process connectivity is stronger when intentionally designed. When the connection between processes fails, outcomes are jeopardized.
Consider the example of commercial air travel. An overarching process encompasses a series of activities—subprocesses—to fulfill the purpose of transporting passengers and cargo safely. In this case, the flight itself is the larger process. Supporting the flight are light and heavy aircraft maintenance processes, interior and exterior cleaning, preflight checklist procedure, and fueling processes. Each procedure is part of the larger process. When each process is performed effectively, the outcome is more likely to fulfill the purpose. If a procedure is missed or performed ineffectively, fulfilling the purpose faces increased risk.
In 1983, Air Canada flight 143 originated in Montreal, with a scheduled stop in Ottawa en route to Edmonton. The flight was one of the first for the new Boeing 767. The pre-flight process uncovered a malfunction with a fuel gauge. “Plan B” called for the flight maintenance crew to calculate fuel in the 767’s tanks manually through a process known as “dipping the tanks”—the jet plane version of using an oil dipstick in a car—to determine onboard fuel volume. Fuel technicians cautiously worked through their calculations to assure sufficient fuel for the scheduled flight.
Employee training is an important subprocess supporting the macro-process of completing safe flights. In this case, the maintenance crew had not been trained to perform manual fuel dip calculations. With proper training, they would have known the Boeing 767 used all metric measurements; instead, they assumed U.S. measurements in assessing fuel levels—one kilo equals 2.2 pounds of fuel. As a result, their measurements overstated fuel onboard by about double.
Over Red Lake, Ontario, a warning light came on in the cockpit informing pilots of a fuel pressure problem with the left engine. Soon, a second fuel pressure warning light illuminated. At an altitude of 41,000 feet, it became clear, the jumbo jet had run out of fuel. After evaluating the situation, pilots prepared for an unscheduled landing in Winnipeg. Miscalculating fuel in the plane’s tanks turned a new Boeing 767 into a 132-ton glider.
The outcome of this experience could have been tragic. But a series of factors came together to prevent disaster. When both engines failed, the 767’s Ram Air Turbine deployed, descended from the plane’s undercarriage, and activated the wind-driven fan supplying hydraulic pressure necessary to operate certain fight controls. This backup system bought pilots time to develop a plan to land their aircraft on an abandoned Canadian Airforce base at Gimli.
This story provides a dramatic illustration of the Process Mindset. Value is added or diminished with every process in a business. Training is an important, ongoing process in an organization, not a stand-alone event. This training process is aligned with a purpose—assuring that all employees are fully enabled to accurately, competently, perform their jobs. The training subprocess supports the larger process of safely transporting passengers and cargo.
While MSPs may not be responsible for safely landing planes, the Process Mindset is also aligned with activities across the MSP spectrum. Every MSP, at each point in the customer value chain, has the same question to answer: how do we earn and sustain relevance today? Relevance in an MSP business context refers to pertinence, importance, or meaningfulness stakeholders ascribe to a company. MSPs play a unique role in the overall value chain, often unknown to the end user customer. Relevance is enhanced when the MSP professional is clear about how their offering aligns with connected or related processes in the client’s business.
In my book Leading from Zero: Seven Essential Elements of Earning Relevance, I discuss three components of the Process Mindset that apply to MSPs:
- Every activity is part of a larger process,
- Every process must align with a purpose, and
- Activity-process connectivity is stronger when intentionally designed.
Knowing where and how your MSP offering fits into your client’s value chain and how you add value is core to earning and sustaining relevance. Everything your firm does is part of a broader set of processes in your client’s business. When you understand the bigger picture of your client’s operation, then align your service processes accordingly, you position your firm to make a more meaningful impact.