This was a phrase I started using around 10 years ago to try and describe the gap between different processes at different levels of maturity within the same business. (Check out my earlier post on process maturity here)
We were working with a global manufacturer at the time with a very high level of maturity in their production processes but very low in other areas such as Marketing. Attempts had been made to improve these other areas using the same techniques that had worked on the production line. The impact was limited and soon reverted to old ways of doing things.
We took some time to observe the way this was done in production. We performed Gemba on the people that were doing Gemba on the process.
What we noticed, but what seems obvious now, is that the production teams had multiple points of reference when they discussed their work and how to improve it. They had status charts, in some cases flow charts, but most importantly they had the physical environment, the actual production line itself.
When an issue was discussed they could clearly point to the physical location. If they wanted to try a different layout of the production line they had Computer Aided Design tools that allowed them rearrange the shop floor electronically to see what might happen.
In the Marketing office there were rows of desks with computers. People sat with teams organised in ways such as reporting lines or product lines. When they discussed how things worked they had very few points of reference. Little or no documentation in most cases and no physical environment to point to.
This meant that discussions around issues tended to be based on what many perceived to be opinion rather than fact. When someone experienced something not working on the production line it was easy to show others. When someone experienced something not working in Marketing it was often their word and how they described it.
Of course things were measured but it wasn't always clear exactly how the work impacted the measures.
We started to describe this effect as Business Usability. On the production line teams had more visibility of work and how it flowed through the process, they had higher levels of Business Usability. Think how a modern Smart phone guides you through the things you need to do, the next step seems obvious.
In other areas, with low visibility of how work flowed and an opaque relationship between the work and what we measure, they had low Business Usability.
Out first step in resolving this challenge was to create better visibility of the processes across these teams. And obviously we avoided using long text documents or complex flow charts to do so.
Where do you see low Business Usability?