One key challenge in progressing change within organisations is balancing different stakeholder perspectives. People will quite naturally have different viewpoints based on their backgrounds, values, experiences, expertise - plus their personal and political agendas (both overt and hidden). A change that seems small and innocuous to one stakeholder group might induce fear and reluctance in another. Something that seems like a ‘no brainer’ to one group might seem completely undesirable to another.
The CATWOE technique is well established in the business analysis world as a way of analysing such perspectives. When discussing this technique, attention is usually drawn to the worldview and transformation elements, and whilst this is understandable, it is also crucial that the customer element is considered.
In this context, CATWOE is used to consider why a particular person or group thinks that a business system exists, and what it ought to be doing (irrespective of what it actually does!). The ‘customer’ element considers:
“The beneficiaries or recipients of the system outputs according to the stakeholder’s world view.” (Paul et al, 2020)
In other words, it asks “who are the customers from this person’s perspective?”. This can be extremely illuminating as sometimes people will appear to be in agreement on what a business system ought to be doing, but they have very different views on why it exists and who it should serve.
An Example: Doctor’s Surgery
Imagine conducting analysis within a doctor’s office. On the surface it would seem obvious why the organisation exists and who it serves. Surely it exists to provide healthcare services to patients. While at a surface level this might be true, dig deeper and there would likely be a whole range of different perspectives. Some stakeholders might think it is purely about treating ill patients. Others might feel that there is the potential to offer advice and prevent future health problems. There might even be a suggestion that doctors should signpost patients to other services. Left unchecked conflict would bubble up due to these conflicting perspectives. Some examples are summarised below:
|Stakeholder||Perspective||Customers from this perspective|
|Doctor||The surgery primarily exists to help ill patients get better, as well as to offer preventative health advice.||Patients|
|Social worker||The surgery primarily exists to help ill patients get better, but doctors may also spot opportunities to refer cases where support or investigation is required. Often this support is required for a relative (e.g. child) of a patient.||
Relatives of patients
|Pharmaceutical salesperson||The surgery primarily exists to help ill patients get better. This provides an opportunity for our products to be prescribed, which in turn increases our profits (and my bonus).||
|Manager of local Accident & Emergency unit||One of the key reasons we value doctors’ surgeries is they can very effectively deal with minor issues, which prevents people from coming to A&E unnecessarily, whilst also making emergency referrals (along with useful diagnostic information) when necessary.||Patients|
|Local chemist (pharmacy)||The surgery exists to help ill people get better, and we love it when patients come to us to dispense their prescriptions.||
There would be many other viewpoints alongside these too. It’s notable that the perspectives overlap and there is agreement with the core purpose of the surgery (‘treating ill people’). It would only be once their more nuanced perspectives were exposed, including their different views on who the customers might be, that a more meaningful dialogue could take place. This table also illustrates the flexibility that is built into the CATWOE technique. Whilst the mnemonic is useful as a framework, it isn’t necessary to slavishly go through each letter by rote. Like all techniques it can be adapted to the situation, and capturing the essence of each part of the framework is often enough.
Successful change relies on gaining and maintaining good relationships with stakeholders. CATWOE is a technique that can help in attaining an understanding of their perspectives, and focusing on the ‘C’ element is absolutely crucial.