Jan Carlzon Primer – Moments of Truth Overview

Jan Carlzon was the CEO of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) in the early 1980s. He was at the helm of the company while they negotiated a very turbulent time for the airline industry in the 1980s. SAS had a terrible reputation and was underperforming financially at the time. Carlzon not only got the company back on the right track, but also provided the leadership necessary to make SAS the most punctual airline in Europe after the first year of his tenure. His book Moments of Truth describes his approach and is now recognized as a touchstone for leadership and communication.

Carlzon defines a “Moment of Truth” as any moment in which a customer forms an opinion or impression of a business. In the case of SAS, Carlzon estimated there were approximately 50,000 moments of truth each day for his business. These included not only interactions with employees, but phone conversations, plane arrival/departure times, baggage experiences, etc.

By identifying those moments of truth and educating his employees on the importance of each customer interaction, Carlzon provided the catalyst for the company as a whole to recover financially and improve their reputation. Shared ownership and accountability was critical to the turnaround; it wasn’t seen as a top-down initiative.

Carlzon’s concept of a moment of truth can be applied to any industry or business function. Our customers are constantly forming new impressions about us. While each moment of truth is important, first impressions have the most lasting effect on a customer’s perception of our company over time.

Focus Group Session Planning (1 month)

1- Gather any existing process materials and data from the relevant team members.

Make sure you have a solid understanding of what is currently happening.

To supplement your understanding in the absence of clear reference materials, you may consider interviewing front-line supervisors or shadowing staff members while they carry out the process in question.

Try to identify any potential gaps in the process and have some recommendations forming in the back of your head to refine later.

Ask for any surveys, performance data, performance benchmarks, etc. that pertain to the process you’re examining. You may have to keep asking for this throughout the life of the project if the team doesn’t have robust reporting tools or processes.

2- Sit down for at least an hour with the project sponsor/champion.

This should be the leadership member(s) of the team you are working with. Your goal will be to gather enough information to create a first draft scoping document.

Cover the following talking points (roughly in this order):

Who is the ultimate customer?

What is the overall goal of the process improvement effort? Have the sponsor articulate two or three outcomes they would like to see from the project, both from the client standpoint and the customer standpoint (if applicable). It’s important that your internal company objectives align with the customer’s; sometimes they can be mutually exclusive!

What metrics will be used to determine if the goal(s) has been met a year from now?

What are the pain points of the current process? What problem caused the sponsor to decide that process improvement was necessary?

How are we currently identifying what the customer wants? Is this sufficient or are more tools needed (surveys, external focus groups, etc.)?

What resources can be devoted towards achieving the desired metrics? Are there any resource gaps that would prevent improved performance (especially staffing and technology/software)?

Does this process affect only internal employees, or does it also affect our customers? (If yes make sure you follow step #4!)

3- If possible, gather any existing data on the metrics discussed by the sponsor in Step #2.

4- Construct a first draft scope document and review with the project sponsor.

Be as specific as possible in your scoping language. Describe precisely what process you are working on, and what objectives you are working towards. For internal-facing scope documents, it may be appropriate to state current data and desired benchmark data (i.e. “Our current conversion rate is 15%; we are working to raise it to 20% by Q1 2017”).

5- If applicable, share the scope document with the customer/client organization after you’ve incorporated your sponsor’s revisions.

This is your last opportunity to make sure that everyone is on the same page with what you’re trying to accomplish. You may need to contact the customer/client sponsor separately to ensure that your sponsor’s vision is aligned. Sometimes customers are less likely to share dissenting opinions in a group meeting with a stakeholder they have worked extensively with over time.

6- Work with the sponsor to identify who will form the process improvement team following the focus group session (roles and responsibilities, communication plan, etc.).

7- Work with a manager/supervisor to identify who will attend the focus group session from the team.

These should be front-line staff members and supervisors who carry out the process as their main job function. Sponsors can attend depending on the team dynamics, but typically the focus group will share more candid feedback in the absence of senior leadership. Around 12 employees should do the trick; anything above 12 and especially above 20 will be difficult to facilitate.

8- Finalize your focus group session logistics.

Will the session be virtual, in-person, or blended? If you have virtual attendees, how will you structure your activities to make sure they feel included? What materials will you use? What’s your agenda?

For in-person sessions, it’s advisable to have the following:

A huge stockpile of sticky notes

Markers and pens



For remote or blended situations, you’ll need to use Google docs as a real-time collaboration space.

9- Prior to your focus group session, send out the following documents as homework to the attendees:

Moments of Truth Overview

8 Deadly Lean Wastes

Your project scope document

Focus group agenda

10- Schedule a focus group session debrief with your project sponsor (to occur about a week after the actual focus group meets).

Focus Group Execution (2-4 hours)

1- Review the project charter.

Does everyone understand the objectives of the process improvement activity?

2- Review the concept of Moments of Truth.

After explaining, give an example of a moment of truth that pertains to that team. Then ask for two or three other examples from the group.

3- Ask the team to brainstorm all moments of truth for the current process individually at their seat.

This brainstorming does not need to be chronological. For in-person attendees, they should use sticky notes. Remote people should brainstorm on an individual Google doc.

4- Once team members have finished, ask them to put the stickies up on the wall in rough chronological order.

Remote teams can use a Google spreadsheet for this step in which similar steps between team members can be grouped into the same column.

5- Have the team review the stickies one more time and make any last-minute adjustments to the chronology of the process steps.

It is okay to move stickies that you did not write. You’ll need to take pictures of this or group the stickies in order for your post-focus group session work.

6- Break

7- Review 8 Deadly Wastes of Lean and the concept of non-value add steps.

Go through each concept as desired. As an activity, you can have the team break up into sub-groups and be assigned one of the waste concepts. Have the sub-group explain the category of waste and provide an example of that waste in the existing process if possible.

8- Record and/or identify any non-value add (NVA) steps in the current process.

Have groups split into smaller teams and notate NVA steps on a flipchart or Google doc. This should be stream of consciousness brainstorming and doesn’t need to be chronological. Make sure they indicate by the NVA step where it happens in the overall process.

Alternatively, you can have team members look at the sticky note/Google sheet aggregation and mark any steps that don’t seem like they add value. Team members are reluctant to do this to other sticky notes they haven’t written themselves, however.

9- Review the scope objectives again and record “pain points”.

On a flip chart or shared Google doc, ask the team what are the pain points which are preventing them from achieving the desired objectives.  After brainstorming, ask the team to group the pain points into larger, overarching themes such as training, technology, etc. If they’ve grasped the Lean concepts well, you can frame this discussion from a Lean perspective. If not, just ask them for pain points.

Depending of the complexity of the project, it is also sometimes helpful to group pain points in terms of their relative ease of resolution, or their ability to be solved in the short, medium, and long term.

Another possibility is grouping pain points by their potential impact to the scope objectives. This is especially helpful for you to relay the pain point “themes” back to the project sponsor and to be able to recommend how to prioritize them.

10- Create an action plan for each pain point.

Start with a pain point and ask, “How can we solve this pain point?” Write down their ideas. Encourage them to be as specific as possible. For example, if a pain point is training, what kind of training is needed? Who needs to deliver it and when? Say that you will take these ideas to the project sponsor for review.

11- Summarize next steps.

Explain you will be creating a process map of all of the moments of truth. You’ll create a catalog of non-value add steps and pain point action plans. You’ll be reviewing these with the project sponsor and will update the team once this occurs.

Post Focus Group Session Work

1- Create the Moment of Truth process map from the compiled sticky notes/Google sheet info you gathered from the focus group.

In LucidChart, consider breaking up a larger process into different pages instead of cramming it all into one canvas.

2- Create a summary of all NVA steps.

This can be a simple two column table with the description in one column and the rough chronology in the second column.

3- Compile the pain point action plans into a table format.

These will form the basis of your recommendations to improve the process.

4- Create a slide-deck summary of the “current state” process map, NVA steps, and pain points.

Your audience is your project sponsor, so keep that in mind. If they’re detail oriented, you have the info you need to drill down into the weeds. Otherwise, you can focus more on themes than the granular outputs from the session.

5- Review the slide deck with the project sponsor and agree upon next steps.

Review the recommendations to see what is feasible. Finalize the next steps as your project plan/schedule. Decide upon the “owner” of the process improvement project; this is usually a front-line manager or supervisor.

6- If your process affects external customers, modify the slide deck according to your sponsor’s suggestion and then share with the customer.

This is a great point to ask if the action plan for the pain points ties into the objectives you have outlined in your scope. Revise any pieces of the next steps based upon your customer’s wishes and the sponsor’s approval.

7- Communicate the next steps back to the team.

Ideally the owner would do this step, or you can coordinate with them to communicate the message jointly.

8- Monitor the process changes in the process by gathering data.

These changes are the pain point action plans you’ve entered into your project schedule and should hopefully impact the metrics defined in your project scope. Compare the new data with the old to evaluate how well your recommendations are solving the team’s pain points.

9- Report back to the owner and sponsor on the new process performance.

If things aren’t improving, you may need to conduct a follow-up focus group session with the team to try to identify the issue. Decide which metrics you will report back to the customer and how often (if applicable).

10- Repeat steps #8 and #9 until your scope conditions have been fulfilled, or until your sponsor indicates a change in scope might be needed.

Jan Carlzon is a legend of customer service. By emulating his “Moments of Truth” approach, you just might become a legend yourself.


Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Justin Scoville

Justin Scoville

Contributing Author

Justin Scoville's unique adventures in project management have spanned international volunteer opportunities in Mexico and Israel, complex government grant programs, and more recently education technology implementations in the private sector. Proudly bearing the battle scars of initiatives both small and large, Justin enjoys exploring the frontiers of project management, particularly its intersection with process improvement methodologies, strategic planning, and product management.


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