Solve this puzzle.
Imagine you are trying to solve it with an increasingly annoyed customer standing in front of you waiting, tapping their foot whilst you try and work out what that strange yellow small breasted creature is and why it is looking anxiously into the distance.
Wait, what? Those are arms? OK, small armed creature. But it doesn’t explain that multi-coloured Death Star hanging ominously over his shoulder like it’s about to mug him.
Oh, and the customer is still there, looking at their watch now and tutting to their companion, nodding in your direction “he’s an idiot!”
Last Friday I was that customer tutting at you. I was in Halfrauds at their bike desk to pick up a bike saddle and bar grips that I had ordered and paid for online, it was my lunchbreak, the shop is near my work.
I had received an email saying it would be delivered to the store on Wednesday. Being a long time victim of Halfords famed customer service I gave it two more days before going to pick up the items.
Standing at the desk I ask:
“I ordered these online, and got an email saying they should be in now, here is the order number”.
[Anxious tapping at a computer.] ”erm, it says it has been dispatched.”
“Is it here?”
“erm, it says it has been dispatched, so it will probably be here today”
“but your email said it would be here on Wednesday, is it on route or something?”
“it says it has been dispatched. It will probably be here later today I reckon”
“today? Ok, I will come back next week then”
Luckily for both of us, another Halfords person overhears this exchange, and reaching down behind the counter he holds up a package saying:
“A saddle and handle bars for ThinkPurpose is it? It arrived on Wednesday”
And of course it was. It still is, they’re on my bike now and being shaped to my onionish behind. But if me, and the Halfords man, had believed the computer saying no, I’d have got it perhaps never, as that package would probably always be being “dispatched” and probably never “under the counter”.
The systems thinking lesson
That’s what a severe looking Japanese man called Shigeo Shingo said should be the priority for improving things.
That is, the number one priority is to focus on making the work easier so staff can do the work that achieves purpose more easily.
Then the second priority is to help make the work better, achieve purpose better, a higher grade of purpose, better match and fit with the customer need.
The third priority is to make the work flow faster.
The final priority is to make the work flow cheaper.
The most important words for me are “in that order”. And the interesting thing being, organisations commonly have those priorities reversed. The priorities are cheaper, faster, better, easier. In that order.
I am no leanster, or know anything about manufacturing, which is where Shigeo Shingo worked, but I reckon “easy” is a pre-condition for achieving purpose. It starts with easier, with the aimed for result being better achieved purpose, this then results in faster and inevitably then cheaper. So as Deming said, if you focus on costs, cost will rise, focus on quality or purpose, then costs will fall.
I’m not really a fan of introducing words like “cheaper” into anything. It cheapens the debate. For me, its about the first two words.
Make it easier for staff to make it better, and faster and cheaper will be the inevitable result.
Back to that puzzle.
The poor Halfords man had a terrible puzzle in front of him, this clumsy and wrong computer system that got in the way of him being able to achieve purpose. It told him that the item was dispatched, but not when it had been or when it might arrive, or even that it had actually arrived and was hanging around his feet.
The system includes not only the computer screen he was looking at but also the work surrounding it, the updating of it, the training on the system, the unofficial workarounds. He had to work very hard on the puzzle, rather than it helping him.
That puzzle above is hard, trying to solve it whilst dealing with work in whatever form will inevitably make the work harder and less likely to achieve purpose.
Imagine if instead of the poor Halfords man having to work on the above puzzle, instead he was faced with this one?
Go on, give it a try, I’ve made it easy for you.