November 26, 2020


‘Streamlining’ was very fashionable back in the 1930s and 40s.  Originally pure engineering, the purpose was to reduce drag over fast moving vehicles such as trains, planes and automobiles.

However, the look quickly got taken up as a badge of modernity, often accentuated with totally unnecessary, usually shiny protuberances, that looked the part, but actually increased friction.  Eventually, ‘streamlining’ got applied to all sorts of things that were never going to move, never mind create drag – record players, light fittings, buildings.

The point is to remember who it’s for.   That’s where Good Services principle no. 8 comes in: “A good service requires as few steps as possible to complete.”  For the user.   If you deliver through other people, they are effectively the user.

What does “as few steps as possible” really mean?   For me, this:

  • Each step is a meaningful move in the right direction from the perspective of the client.  This often means that steps are bigger than you’re used to thinking of.   If I want to hire a car, filling a form in isn’t meaningful to me, but choosing a car from those you have available is.
  • Each step is completely self-contained.  There is no possibility of ‘limbo’ (or purgatory).  A step is complete or its not.  That way, everyone knows exactly where you are in the overall process.
  • You couldn’t add another step to the process without muddying it.
  • You couldn’t remove any step from the process without breaking it.

Streamlining a process into as few steps as possible isn’t necessarily about speed either.  The process itself may take a long time.   Individual steps may take a long time, or there may be long gaps between them:

The service, or process, should be as simple as possible, but no simpler, and possible to deliver with minimal interaction from you, or anyone else in your business.

Of course, achieving this might mean re-organising your business.   But it will be worth it.