Monday, October 8, 2012

Architecturally significant Use Case behind a haircut

Enterprise Architects, self included, train themselves to look for "Architecturally significant use cases" that demonstrate the core functionality targeted at key users. Most of the focus of such discussions is on the design and engineering of information systems. Schools of thinking on Enterprise Architecture, notably TOGAF, attempt to bring requirements at the center of any architecture or design activity. Rightly so. While focusing on key requirements requires working closely business stakeholders, it is more important to zero in how requirements impact the end users.

Case in point, I was at a hairdresser this weekend for a periodic cut-and-trim. After being greeted and seated on the barber chair, I began musing on how far and how close information technology has come and how a simple focus on architecturally significant use cases can lead to better customer interactions.

I am sure you are going to be wondering what a visit to a hairdresser has to do with enterprise architecture and architecturally significant use cases. So here is the context. I started frequenting Great-Clips during my road-warrior days when the no-frills haircut chain with outlets all over the country gave me a sense of known “brand” while traveling to Anytown USA. Most Great Clips' outlets have a familiar "standard operating procedure"
a) A hairdresser standing closest to the front desk breaks away from a customer s/he is working and greet every new patron stepping in.
b) After a ‘welcome to great clips,” s/he asks for their phone number.
c) After the number is found on the computer, s/he will give an estimated wait time to the patron and return back to work
d) When the next available hairdresser gets free s/he will look at the computer screen and call out for customer, in this case Mohan.
e) During my visit, the hairdresser, a new girl who had never cut my hair before asked me if I wanted the “usual”: trim in the sides, above the ears and behind over the collar. With a scissors and no machine? I replied “yes” and let her go about her job.
f) The visit ended with a consistent, predictable experience for this customer
In case you are wondering what’s the big deal? Chains like Great-Clips, unlike the small-town barber shops are staffed by hair-dressers who don’t make much. This in turn leads to a high turnover of staff. Customers like me who return back to the chain expect a consistent no-nonsense service without having to explain our “usual” preferences every time.


This is the perfect use-case for a simple Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Though I suspect behind the scenes the  Great-Clips’ CRM  is much more complicated, to me the simple act of storing my haircut preferences and the ability for any hairdresser working on my haircut to access information on my “usual” preference is a significant use case. Yet another way in which a faceless chain with transient workforce is able to leverage the wonders of databases, networks and user interfaces to provide a hometown-barber-shop-like experience to customers.

ps: the above blog post is not by any means an endorsement of Great-Clips; and I am not any closer to the design of their systems than the average Joe-customer. The Enterprise Architect in me, however spent time on the barber chair musing on the possibilities of us exploring similar use-cases that touch customers without them even having to think there is a lot more behind the scenes.